McLean column: Political disagreement is not racism
In an opinion column in the Aug. 17 Huffington Post, contributor David Fain said that all U.S. soldiers and vets are probably racists. After Charlottesville, Don Lemon on CNN said that Trump supporters were “complicit” in racism. Other members of the liberal media made similar claims.
The use of the term racist to label someone with whom one disagrees is counterproductive. Like overusing a swear word, it loses its impact. Racism and bigotry are pure, unadulterated evil. We all have prejudices and bias. That is human nature.
The evil of racism leads to violence. It led the Nazis to attempt to decimate the Jews. It led the Hutus in Rwanda to attempt to destroy the Tutsis and the Turks to commit genocide against the Armenians. It also drives the hatred of the very small minority of Americans who are white supremacists and members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Meridian, Mississippi, was the site of Navy Basic Jet flight training when I was a student pilot. Arriving there in the fall of 1967, the atmosphere of the town was oppressive. We were warned by the Navy to be extremely careful when on liberty. The KKK had murdered a few years earlier three civil rights workers near Meridian. Navy personnel had been utilized to find the bodies. Some of the townspeople held us responsible for the federal government’s prosecution of the Klan.
A recent graduate of CU, I was not used to such hatred. However, Boulder was not exempt from discrimination. With three other NROTC midshipmen, one of whom was black, we tried to rent an apartment in Boulder. We could not find one until our African-American friend dropped out, deciding to stay in the dorm. However, it was definitely a haven compared to Meridian.
The Klan and its supporters in Meridian were pure evil. They hated anyone who was not like them. On the rare occasions that we went into town for a meal or to catch a movie, the locals made it known that they did not want us around. They were real racists. Today even Meridian has improved greatly. There are no segregated theaters, restaurants or schools. Undoubtedly there are a few of the old KKK types around, but they are in a small minority.
As stated, the casual use of the term racist diminishes its impact. Once at a dinner party a lady told me that anyone who did not like Obama was a racist. I asked her if she liked Condoleezza Rice. When she said no, I asked if that made her a racist. Upset, she left.
In my opinion, it is just as prejudiced to like someone because of the color of their skin or their gender or their ethnic background as it is to dislike them. Having worked all over the world, I have had extensive contact with all kinds of racial backgrounds, nationalities, religions and ethnicity. I mainly like most people. However, there are usually some from every group that I do not like. I do not think that makes one a racist or bigot.
America has improved greatly in race relations since my time in Meridian. Brian Boutwell, a sociologist at St. Louis University, recently published an extensive study on discrimination. He writes, “Our results indicate that the majority of the sample reported either no experience with discrimination or that it had happened only rarely. Moreover, of those reporting having experienced discrimination, the majority suggested that unique and perhaps situationally specific factors other than race, gender, sexual orientation and age were the cause(s) of discrimination (for additional insight, see Everett et al. ). Our results thus provide at least somewhat of a counterweight to possibly exaggerated claims that discrimination is a prevalent feature of contemporary life in the United States.”
I spoke to my Indian friend Dr. Raj Rao regarding discrimination that he had faced while working as a neuropathologist in the U.S. He told me of one hospital that took only Jewish physicians for staff but used all nationalities as residents. He also spoke of being unable to join an exclusive club in Pittsburgh even though he had the requisite member sponsors. His son was denied admission to a prestigious preschool that was supposedly first-come first-served. He had signed his son up at birth.
However, Dr. Rao was not upset. He explained that he recognized that it was normal human nature to discriminate and to form groups of like-minded people. He simply chose to find groups where he would be accepted.
Of all the countries in which I have worked, I find that the United States is one of the least racist. People are judged here much more by what they accomplish and who they are than by the color of their skin or what tribe they belong to. We have made great strides since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Many more opportunities have opened up for African-Americans, Latinos and Asians.
We need to continue to strive to improve race relations, but it does not help to label large segments of our population racist because one does not agree with them politically.
Roland McLean, an Aspen Glen resident, is a University of Colorado graduate, Navy veteran and retiree after more than 30 years in international construction. His column appears on the fourth Thursday of each month. Reach him at email@example.com.