“America is Not a Racist Country”

“It took America a while to get that right.”

Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley is quoted several times as saying, “America is Not a Racist Country.” I’m inclined to believe that what she says is sincere. So, I read this THR interview with her with great interest.

She notes that she spent much time discussing race relations in a recent interview with Charlemagne. “What I said was, I’m not denying that there is racism in America.” She noted, “We should stomp it out every time we see it, and I did that as governor, and I did it as UN ambassador, and I will do that in everything I ever do.”

Here’s her nuance on the topic. “I said America is not a racist country, and my reasoning for that is I don’t think that America was intended to be a racist country. All men were supposed to be created equal with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It took America a while to get that right.”

Ah, that’s an interesting take on the Founders. My rhetorical question: And when was the point she believed that the goal was achieved? I’m not trying to be pedantic here.  Was it after the Civil War, maybe with the Civil War amendments? (And BTW, I didn’t care much about her muddled comment about whether slavery was the cause of the Civil War.) Or perhaps a century later? Or 2008?

The discussion is relevant about how we see our nation and what we should address if there are things to fix. Unfortunately, that question was not asked.  But I think we’re dealing with definitional differences.

Try that in a small town.

She noted, “As a brown girl who grew up in a small rural town, if my parents had told me that ‘you were born into a racist country,’ I would’ve always felt like I was disadvantaged. Instead, my parents always said, ‘You may encounter racism, but there’s nothing you can’t do, and you should work twice as hard to prove to everybody that you deserve to be in the room.'” Hmm. That sounded like the message that black kids of my generation always heard. So, she experienced individual racism.

In The Breakfast Club discussion, she stated that the division of the people over race started with Barack Obama because he used executive orders extensively. Since the Tea Party and its ilk arose, the Republicans failed to compromise or work with him. They wanted to make him a one-term president.

My take is more in keeping with what William Spivey suggested, that Obama’s election sparked the “fourth wave of white supremacy.”

“The general election [of 2008] removed any pretense that race was not a factor. Surrogates for John McCain depicted Barack and Michelle as monkeys. Obama faced birtherism charges of being born in Nigeria, Kenya, or maybe both, led by Donald Trump. Racist memes flooded the Internet… One might think things would have calmed down [after he was elected], but there were outbreaks of racism and race-based attacks throughout the country well before Obama took his oath of office.”

I give Nikki Haley props for “removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House following the racially charged murder of nine Black parishioners at Mother Emanuel Church” in 2015, after defending the flag as part of the state’s “heritage” five years earlier. But I find her thoughts on race in America less compelling than I had hoped.

Color blindness as “the best form of antiracism”?

Wendell Phillips

On the first day of Black History Month, the Boston Globe posted a piece entitled “Color blindness remains the best form of antiracism.” It may be behind a paywall.

“Coleman Hughes is an author and podcaster. This essay is adapted from his book ‘The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America,’ to be published on [February 6] Tuesday by Thesis, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House.”

The subtitle of Hughes’ article was, “Of course we all see race. But it’s a bad basis for determining how to treat people or craft public policy.”

Part of his argument points out an earlier definition of color blindness, which is better enuciated in a TED talk called The Case for color blindness.

He notes that the adverse “reaction to color blindness is actually a fault of its advocates. People will say things like, ‘I don’t see color’ as a way of expressing support for color blindness. But this phrase is guaranteed to produce confusion because you do see color, right? “

An observation here. Small children likely see race and pick up cultural values about it much earlier than we might have believed. This is why I believe discussing race is essential, just at the point that there are forces in the United States that want to ban books dealing with race, gender identity, and the like.

19th-century roots
Hughes is correct when he says we should eliminate the phrase “I don’t see color.” Instead, we should “replace it with what we really mean to say, which is, ‘I try to treat people without regard to race.'”

He makes an interesting historical observation. “The philosophy of color blindness… actually comes from the radical wing of the antislavery movement in the 19th century. The earliest mentions of color blindness come from Wendell Phillips, who was the president of the American Anti-Slavery Society and a man whose nickname was ‘abolition’s golden trumpet.’

“He believed in immediate full equality for Black Americans. 

And in 1865, he called for the creation of a ‘government colorblind,’ 
by which he meant the permanent end of all laws that mention race.”

Of course, we know that did not happen. Jim Crow, sunset laws, Plessy v. Ferguson, restrictive housing covenants, etc., etc.  And actions that didn’t have to mention race, such as lynchings.

Speaking of Plessy, I’ve discovered that John Marshall Harlan’s dissent in that case was rather narrow. From this journal article: “The consensus
regarding the then-extant legal understandings of ‘rights’ in post-Civil
War America are on display in Justice Harlan’s opinion.” In other decisions, “Justice Harlan recognized and accepted the legal distinction between civil rights and social rights, a distinction ‘mark[ing] a sphere of associational freedom in which law would allow practices of racial discrimination to flourish.'”

And “in a passage containing his well-known metaphor of a
colorblind Constitution, he stated:
“[I]n view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this
country no superior, dominant ruling class of citizens. There is no
caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor
tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all
citizens are equal before the law.

“This call for civil-rights colorblindness was immediately preceded by this
“‘The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country.
And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth,
and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time, if it
remains true to its great heritage, and holds fast to the principles of
constitutional liberty.” Thus, the definition of the term color-blind was not universally understood.

I think Hughes’ point that having policies meant to reduce inequality be executed based on class instead of race has merit. But maybe it is more of a “both-and” thing. How do we address the loss of generational wealth resulting from previous discrimination? The risk to pregnant black women’s health when dealing with the medical establishment appears to be irrespective of the prospective mother’s socio-economic status.

Coleman Hughes has added to the discussion. I haven’t fully embraced his POV, but that’s okay.

Radical Republicans, SCOTUS, and justice


For Constitution Day, which is September 17, I want to discuss the Radical Republicans. No, not Gym Jordan, Elise Stefanik, and many in the current GOP, who are indeed radical but not for justice.

On August 15, Professor Stephen E. Gottlieb, professor emeritus at the  Albany Law School, presented a talk,  Should We Abolish the Supreme Court? He referenced his book Unfit for Democracy. and The Case Against the Supreme Court by Erwin Chemerinsky.

Professor Gottlieb noted that those in his party who put Abraham Lincoln’s feet to the fire were labeled Radical Republicans. Gottlieb remembers this designation was offered as pejorative when he attended public school. My recollection of my school days is the same.

“The American Battlefield Trust preserves America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educates the public about what happened there and why it matters.” The organization offered up this article.

“The Radical Republicans were a group of politicians who formed a faction within the Republican party that lasted from the Civil War into the era of Reconstruction. They were led by Thaddeus Stevens in the House of Representatives and Charles Sumner in the Senate. The Radicals were known for their opposition to slavery, their efforts to ensure emancipation and civil rights for Blacks and their strong opinions on post-war Reconstruction.”

After engaging in a bloody Civil War, incrementalism was not on the minds of many Republicans, whose party was only about a decade old.  “While President Lincoln wanted to fight the war largely for the preservation of the Union, the Radical Republicans believed the primary reason for fighting was for the abolition of slavery.”

The Civil War amendments

It would have been impossible for the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to have passed without the Radical Republicans. “The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was an effort by the Radical Republicans to reinforce the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery and had been passed the year prior. With this Civil Rights Act, the radicals were also taking steps towards establishing citizenship for Blacks by defending their civil rights and granting them equal protection under the law. In 1867, they were successful in passing the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship to Blacks…

“New Reconstruction Acts were passed and called for each rebel state to draft a new constitution as well as ratify the new Fourteenth Amendment… Congress, meaning primarily Radical Republicans, would then have to approve these new state constitutions before readmitting the rebel state back into the Union…  Furthermore, they deployed military troops to the South to maintain order and to protect the rights of Black citizens. In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, granting Blacks the right to vote.”

The legislation inhibiting Andrew Johnson’s ability to remove his own cabinet members, which led to the impeachment of the President in 1868, was an overreach. While the Radical Republicans dominated the late 1860s, their power dwindled in the early 1870s.  Corruption seeped into the party, including fights over civil service reform. Beyond that, figures like Sumner “believed that the era of Reconstruction was successfully completed and no longer needed Radical supervision.”

Then the Tilden/Hayes election of 1876 killed Reconstruction, and Jim Crow ruled, not just in the South.

A century later

The justice that was supposed to have been codified in the 1860s and 1870s had been thwarted, in large part because of the Supreme Court’s decisions such as the “separate but equal” Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

As a result, civil rights for Black people had to be relitigated, mainly in the 1950s and 1960s. It was addressed in legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But it was also manifest in decisions by the Warren Court (1953-1969), not only overtly about race (Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Loving v. Virginia), but cases of justice regardless of race. Professor Gottlieb suggested that this period was the highlight of the Supreme Court’s history.

“In 1961, Mapp v. Ohio strengthened the Fourth Amendment’s protections by banning prosecutors from using evidence seized in illegal searches in trials. In 1963, Gideon v. Wainwright held that the Sixth Amendment required that all indigent criminal defendants be assigned a free, publicly-funded defense attorney. Finally, the 1966 case of Miranda v. Arizona required that all persons being interrogated while in police custody be clearly informed of their rights—such as the right to an attorney—and acknowledge their understanding of those rights—the so-called ‘Miranda warning.'”

More recently

This reminded me of the SCOTUS decision by the Roberts Court in June 2013, which “struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act, weakening a tool the federal government has used for nearly five decades to block discriminatory voting laws.” It was as though the justices decided that “we have overcome.”

Many, including me, were then SHOCKED when SCOTUS provided a significant victory for voting rights in 2023. “It handed down a 5-4 decision in Allen v. Milligan that preserves longstanding safeguards against racism in US elections, strikes down a gerrymandered congressional map in Alabama, and all but assures that Democrats will gain at least one congressional seat in the next election from that state.”

The arc of the moral universe is undoubtedly long. Whether it bends towards justice, I’m less confident.


What IS that called?

Nomenclature is “the devising or choosing of names for things, especially in a science or other discipline.” Also, “the term or terms applied to someone or something.” For example, “Customers” was preferred to the original nomenclature “passengers.”

I think a lot about what you call things, groups, and places and how difficult it is to change verbiage, especially when you get older. In the late 1960s, one of grandma Williams’ other grandchildren used to harass her when she referred to “colored” people. The child would say, “What color ARE you?” My grandma would sheepishly say, “Black.”

It’s challenging to change those brain synapses. Grandma Williams also used to call stores by their previous names, which they had not been called for over a decade.

I have become my grandmother. There’s a restaurant in Albany less than a block from where I lived in the mid-1980s. I went there at least six times annually for about five years. It changed ownership and name in 2017. I had been there once before, pre-pandemic. Yet it took me five minutes and a movie mnemonic to summon the new name.

What we call people

Three of my friends have children whose pronouns have changed. At least two of them have periodic trouble remembering, which is understandable. The real issue is how patient the child is with the parent, which sometimes is not so much.

I have an acquaintance of about 40 who changed their name and pronouns. The pronoun was no big deal to me, but the new name? I can’t get it into the brain. But because this person is older, they’ve shown grace in understanding that change is difficult to absorb.

Mental retardation is now an intellectual disability; there are now several preferred terms for people with disabilities. And I try to adhere to all of them, but sometimes, I forget.

The gender-neutral terms in employment, such as flight attendant, police officer, and firefighter, seemed so evident that it gave me almost no difficulty.


Somehow, place changes have been easier for me, perhaps because I don’t use them that often. It was no big deal when Upper Volta became Burkina Faso, or Southern Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe. Peking is now Beijing, Bombay is now Mumbai; no prob. Until 2022, I had no idea Kiev should be Kyiv, but the transition wasn’t difficult.

How are you with changes in nomenclature?

Imprinted: Illustrating Race

Kadir Nelson

imprintedImprinted: Illustrating Race is a current exhibit at the  Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, 45 minutes from Albany, NY. I’ve written about visiting there a few times. In 2017, Rockwell and Warhol; in 2015, Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs; and in 2013,  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The current show, running from June 11 through October 30, 2022, “examines the role of published images in shaping attitudes toward race and culture. Over 300 artworks and objects… will be on view, produced from the late eighteenth century to today, which has an impact on public perception about race in the United States.

“The exhibition will explore stereotypical racial representations that have been imprinted upon us through the mass publication of images.” Many of these involve formerly enslaved people, but also Chinese would-be immigrants. These are generally from the 18th to the early 20th century.

But some creators took on the bigotry in that period. “William J. Wilson published the ‘Afric-American Picture Gallery’ under the name of Ethiop in the Anglo-African Magazine.” He wrote: “we must begin to tell our own story, write our own lecture, paint our own picture, chisel our own bust.”

Later, “The Harlem Renaissance… inspired pride in Black life and identity following World War I through the Great Depression. Artists associated with the movement conveyed a rising consciousness of inequality and discrimination and an interest in the rapidly changing modern world, many experiencing a freedom of expression through the arts for the first time.”

Modern times

“Illustration, Race, and Responsibility: 1950s to Now will explore activism through art from the Civil Rights movements of the mid-20th century to the racial unrest of present-day…

George Floyd.New Yorker“Concurrent to the Imprinted exhibition, In Our Lifetime: Paintings from the Pandemic by Kadir Nelson will be on view… Featuring recent works which have never been exhibited publicly. These are large pieces all created between 2020 and 2022.” You may recognize one work, his George Floyd piece, that was featured as a New Yorker cover.

My wife and I also went on a tour of Norman Rockwell’s studio, a short walk away. The docent was very informative. One thing I had never noticed was that on Rockwell’s cover featuring Ruby Bridges walking with the marshalls, they are all walking in step, signifying their unified purpose.

If you are anywhere near Stockbridge, MA, I recommend a trip to the Norman Rockwell Museum, especially in the next month.

Oh, on the same trip, we also saw a Rodin exhibit at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. Unfortunately, that show has concluded, but there are other fine things to see there.

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