At what point does one find the balance between remembering the past and living in it? If you ask 20 different people, that’s how many different answers you’ll likely get. But when it comes to the issue of race in America, it can be quite complex.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, recently spoke with The Atlantic in an interview conducted shortly after giving a speech at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. This place of worship is where Dylann Roof, a white supremacist terrorist, murdered nine black churchgoers in 2015. During the conversation, the lawmaker made some points that are worth addressing.
In his speech to the congregation, Booker talked about the recent shooting at an El Paso Wal-Mart, which was carried out by a white supremacist who wished to kill Hispanics. “The act of anti-Latino, anti-immigrant hatred we witnessed this weekend did not start with the hand that pulled the trigger,” he said. “To love our country in this moment means that we have to step outside our comfort zones and confront ourselves.”
Later, when speaking with The Atlantic, the senator expanded on his comments, pointing out that some have a more Pollyannish view of American history. “The idea that we’re going to create some Disney-movie version of our history is offensive to me—it diminishes who we are by not telling the truth of who we are,” he remarked. He continued:
“Knowing the bloody, violent truth of our past empowers me and encourages my hope for what we have the capacity to do in our present. But it’s not easy. It’s not. What is easy is what Donald Trump does for short term, pitiful political gain: to demonize ‘the other,’ other Americans, demean and degrade them.”
The author of the piece stated that he brought up the fact that 48 people were shot in Chicago over the same weekend the shootings in Texas and Ohio occurred. The senator responded by noting that “America’s leaders, and Americans overall, act like ‘certain lives don’t matter… and I think that’s insidious.’”
Pollyanna? Or Practicality?
If we were to break down the attitudes of Americans on the nation’s history, you might find that they fall along party lines. On the right, people tend to view America in glowing terms. Many conservatives revere the founders with nearly religious fervor while treating the Constitution and Declaration of Independence as being almost on par with the scripture.
On the other hand, the progressive left views America’s history as that of an oppressive and bigoted nation whose founders only paid lip service to the values to which they claimed to ascribe. To them, the United States should be primarily defined by the worst atrocities committed in its history while ignoring the great good that has come from the American experiment. It is for this reason they hyperfocus on slavery, Jim Crow, and the other awful factors in the country’s racial history. It is why they are willing to lay the actions of the El Paso shooter at the feet of President Donald Trump and his supporters.
But for those who would take a more productive view of America’s racial history, the issue isn’t whether or not the country still has problems with racism; it’s acknowledging that we have made progress and that work still needs to be done. The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow still rears its head in American society in certain areas – but it is not the all-encompassing force it once was.
Those on the right who are hesitant to deal with problems related to racism might be better served by a willingness to engage in the conversation instead of allowing the hard left to dominate the narrative. Don’t worry; simply discussing racism does not turn one into Al Sharpton.
On the left, Americans would be wise to repudiate those in their ranks who use false racism accusations as political weapons against those who are not racist. Indeed, it is their incessant race-baiting that has contributed greatly to the division in American society.
In the end, the gunman who carried out the attack in El Paso is responsible for his acts. But the left’s increasingly aggressive racially-charged rhetoric over the past decade, combined with the inevitable over-the-top backlash from the right, created an environment in which it is easier for people to become radicalized. If anyone desires to place the blame for the shooting on anything except the shooter, the only reasonable culprit is American society as a whole for how it has handled issues regarding race. Neither side of the political spectrum is wholly innocent or entirely responsible.
When mass shootings occur, especially those motivated by racial animus, everyone asks the same question: “Why?” Progressives blame the gun and the right – and especially Trump. Conservatives blame mental health and the left. The issue is constantly polarized. But both sides do agree on one point: There are issues in American culture that produce these individuals. The problem will not be solved by banning “assault weapons.” It will not be solved only by addressing mental health. Until we have honest conversations about race and American society, there will be more racially-motivated violence in the future.