I have purposely lumped "racism" and "bigotry" together for purposes of this discussion because I see them to be, largely, related factors in the total picture. According to my dictionary: "Racism" is defined as: "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior." The dictionary defines "Bigotry" as: "intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself." As I see it (this MAY be an oversimplification) racism is, in essence, just bigotry based on racial differences, but is really little different from religious and/or political differences, which are also of concern.
Now, I am NOT an American History scholar, but I am quite certain that one can trace religious bigotry back to the earliest of colonial times when different colonies were established, in part, to create a "safe" place for groups to worship their way, and to keep out those "other guys" who didn't worship properly and shouldn't be allowed to spoil OUR "city on the hill." I do know that the Massachusetts Bay Colony (I had ancestors there) had little tolerance for more traditional Anglicans, Baptists, Anabaptists, Quakers, and others who did not follow THEIR religious practices. They also had little tolerance for people of different skin colors except for them to be slaves or to be forcibly driven off of land they had occupied for centuries because they were in the way of "us" fulfilling our destiny to create a "perfect" society on the land God (and the King of England) had given us for that purpose.
(Note: Yes, there WERE slaves in New England at this time. Tituba, the first person accused in the Salem Witch Trials, was the slave of Samuel Parris, the pastor of the Salem Village Church. She was, apparently, a South American Indian by birth and was sold to Parris in Barbados.)
I confess that I know a bit more about New England than I do about the other colonies, but I think that it's safe to suggest that notions of racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance really never were all that common in most of the colonies, nor did they improve much with time, even after the Revolution. I do not believe that the Civil War was fought just over slavery so much as it was concerned with the right of the individual states to do as they pleased in many areas, thus weakening the national government in favor of letting most authority and power to reside in the states, as it had under the failed Articles of Confederation.
Post-Civil War Reconstruction was, unfortunately, largely a disaster, which did little but force the "conquered" South into begrudging acceptance of the national government. Discrimination remained, or soon returned, with "Jim Crow" laws, the KKK, lynching, and political division within the country which was "worked around," largely by ignoring "voter qualification tests," poll taxes, and other forms of voter suppression throughout the South. Since it was widely accepted that "some" people were congenitally unable to learn to read, write, or be the intellectual equal of "white people" and, since nobody really wanted to pay for schools, etc. for "those" people, even in the North, "colored" people were kept in poverty by only being allowed low class/pay employment, being forced to live in second (third?) class housing, and being denied educational opportunities which even approached those available to others.
Of course, it was also during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century and the early Twentieth Century when the US had vast waves of immigration from Europe. This helped fuel the Industrial Revolution, and would, eventually, allow those who worked in factories (especially those of European extraction) some prospect of achieving "middle class status," but that, mostly came after WWII.
During this same period, one doesn't have to look very hard to see that the "white" Americans were forcing the "Native" Americans onto reservations where their traditional cultures and languages were being abolished and no real efforts were being made to even view them as people, just as part of the American "burden." This also contributed to them being viewed as inferior and "dependent." The discovery of oil on "Indian Territory" in Oklahoma about 1859, created major problems with this policy, leading to various schemes to steal the land back from the "Indians" who, actually, owned it, but those efforts succeeded because the tribes had few people educated on the law and fewer who came to their assistance.
I don't believe I should have to go into the real discrimination faced by Irish, Italian, German and Eastern European immigrants referred to above, nor the migration of Negroes from the cotton fields of the South to the industrial slums of the North to meet the needs of factories, nor the fact that, in the long run, the "white" immigrants were eventually able to move into the mainstream economy more easily than their black counterparts, because discrimination in housing and employment was less severe for "whites" than for "Blacks." The "Coloreds" didn't even have the option to get real jobs and/or training in the military as that was officially segregated until 1948. Schools were "separate and unequal" in most places until at least the 1950's. Then, when that was outlawed, private, "white," "religious" schools were often created, and "white flight" into the suburbs was increased so that "white children wouldn't have to even go to school with "those" people.
So "busing" was put into place in a valiant, but I think vain, attempt to improve things (over MUCH protestation by "white" parents in all parts of the country). And, since school districts are usually defined by municipalities, big city (Black) kids couldn't be bused into suburban (white) schools and, intentionally or not, those bused could never really be a part of the school community, as they arrived just before school started and left as soon as it was over. (It's easy to not invite "those" children from your kids' school to come to a birthday party, especially when transportation is likely to be a problem, or they might not have the "proper" clothes or money to afford "proper" presents. So, it, often, didn't happen.)
And, it's true that discrimination in housing was commonplace. Real estate agents simply accepted "redlining" in neighborhoods, so "unofficial" segregation continued, even when outlawed. It is said that some property owners required rental agents to indicate if a potential renter was "C for Colored" on the application for rental properties, so a way could be found to deny THAT person access to a rental property in "unsuitable" buildings.
Jews faced (sometimes still do) all sorts of religious bigotry, as did immigrant Catholics and, later, Muslims and those of other religions. And, even among Protestant Christians, I suspect that it is still true that Sunday morning remains the most thoroughly segregated time of the week as people of different races (NOT just creeds) can only practice their religion in racially divided spaces.
So, what does all this have to do with the events of the last week, or so? A good deal, I think. I am certainly in favor of "Equal Justice Under Law," which IS a central component of the U. S. Constitution and is emblazoned on the pediment of the Supreme Court Building. However, I'm afraid that too many people don't wish to accept the idea that that principle is now supposed to apply to ALL people of ALL races, ALL religions and ALL ethnic origins (even WOMEN, gasp) as deserving equal treatment in the eyes of the law.
When the Constitution was written, of course, only white, property-owning males were considered "citizens" (slaves only counted as three/fifths of a person even in the census). Women were counted in the census, of course, but, since they didn't own property, they were not citizens, nor were men who didn't own property. This has, of course, been changed over the years. Even American Indians have been accepted as "people" under law, due to a court ruling in 1877 (Note: a hundred years after the Revolution).
If all people, even non-citizens, are supposed to be granted equal justice under the law, then it is intolerable when anyone is denied this. Two recent cases come to mind which touch on these issues. One, of course, is that of George Floyd. Mr. Floyd died while in the custody of four police officers on a street in Minneapolis on May 25th.
One doesn't have to see the widely circulated video many times to understand that there does not appear to be a reason for three of the four officers involved to actively restrain the handcuffed prisoner. Yes, Floyd WAS accused of a crime, but just accused. That should have led to his detention, investigation of his actions and/or his arrest. To see him lying on his face in the gutter, not engaging in any visible, physical actions by having two officers kneeling on his back and legs, while another one has his knee firmly placed on Floyd's neck (an action which almost certainly lead to his death), does NOT feel like Justice. Since Floyd appears to be well controlled and handcuffed, appropriate investigation of his possible criminal actions should have followed. That would resemble JUSTICE!
On the other hand, the video certainly shows that this did not happen and appears to show his death while in custody. Justice would require investigation of the actions of the officers involved, and, if they are ultimately judged to be guilty of improper actions (which APPEAR to be indicated), they should be convicted, and punished, for the appropriate level of murder. That would resemble JUSTICE!
The second case which comes to my mind was the death of a 22-year-old man in Omaha during a scuffle which arose during a confrontation during a late evening demonstration demanding "justice" for George Floyd on Saturday, May 30. I have to admit that the video which I have seen on TV appears quite unclear and is not long enough to show anything like the complete context of the confrontation. It does seem evident that there was some pushing and shoving, apparently leading to a white man pulling a gun and shooting it, over his shoulder at a black man who appears to have jumped on his back, knocking the white guy down. The local county attorney says that he studied the video many times and decided that it looked to him like a legitimate case of self-defense on the part of the white guy to him. But, in these emotional times, that's not "acceptable Justice." So, under significant political pressure, he has called for the case to be examined by a Grand Jury. I support that notion. However, it's worth noting that most of the pressure has consisted of calls for "Justice for James Scurlock," the victim. This appears to assume that the victim must be blameless because he was the victim. In my book, a black guy jumping on a white guy's back during a confrontation might constitute assault. I regret his death, but I don't know enough to be able to argue as to whether, or not, "Justice" has actually been served in this case.
I suspect that a lack of adequate gun safety laws, etc., is at least a factor in this mess, especially since the shooter's concealed carry permit had expired. But I believe that JUSTICE provides for the possible innocence of an accused (which should apply in BOTH of these cases.). I don't know enough to be able to make a call here, but it appears to me that there is plenty of blame to go around, especially if it is true that Scurlock had jumped on the shooter's back and the fatal shot(s?) were fired over the shooter's shoulder. That does NOT sound like "responsible gun ownership and use" to me, but it could be an unhappy, but legal cause for firing a weapon. That could also be "JUSTICE."
Still, situations like this suggest that a great deal must be done, and quickly, to resolve the fact that, all too often, it seems, too many people, including police officers, may respond too emotionally and violently to situations, especially involving men of color. But the answer to that problem, however, is NOT to abolish police forces, as some seem to think would be a good thing, but to foster an attitude that "To Serve and Protect" applies to ALL citizens, of any color and that force must ALWAYS be justified whenever it is used. All social issues are NOT criminal in nature. Police are supposed to deal with CRIMINAL actors.
But the root cause of these problems is the systemic racism built into the social fabric of our society which taints our schools, churches, housing, jobs, health care, etc. WE MUST create a society which does not tolerate these inequities. That is NOT a call for Socialism, but a demand that ALL people should have decent schools, access to good health care, fair housing practices, fair access to jobs which will allow them to earn a living, etc. Will that be easy? I doubt it. Is it necessary? YES! Will it mean that we all have to accept that even we (the GOOD people) may have contributed to the racism and bigotry which has bred these conditions. Almost certainly!
However, we must never lose sight of the fact that "JUSTICE" is impartial, logical, reasonable. The personification of justice is usually a blindfolded woman holding scales and a sword. This, I believe, is intended to show that justice treats all fairly. As much as possible, she weighs the best evidence she can obtain on the scales to determine guilt or innocence, and executes justice with the sword, when necessary.
I take this to mean that ALL lives are supposed to matter to our society. That DOES include "Black" ones, but also "Brown," "Yellow," "Red," and, even, "White." So, I say to my friends who support the "Black Lives Matter" group, "Of course Black Lives matter!" But saying that does not mean that I should think that "Non-Black" lives don't matter, too. I've been watching the struggle to try to establish a more just society for the better part of my 75 years. I hope that we may be on the verge of actually accomplishing something along the lines of actually creating "Equal Justice Under Law." But we will NOT do that, if we think we can improve justice for ANYONE by taking the right to equal treatment under law away from someone else. Nor by assuming that the police are the best "final solution."
I'd like to think that I have never behaved in a racist manner. I recognize that some may disagree, and they MAY be correct. If that is the case, I am truly sorry. Yes, as a teacher, I was hard on my students of color. I believe (and it has been supported by testimony by former students) that I was hard on my other students, as well. I expected ALL of my students to produce their best work for my classes and was not afraid to let them know when I didn't feel that they had met my (hopefully demanding, but appropriate), standards. But I don't believe that those standards varied (at least much) from student to student, regardless of that student's talent, sex, color, etc. I will confess that I attempted to insure fairness of treatment by taking efforts not to know whose paper or test I was grading until after I had completed work on it and by grading all responses to one question on tests, then shuffling the test papers before going on to the next question, etc. Life is tough enough when we all play by the same rules, but we CAN try to make it fair. I would argue that anyone who thinks they should receive special treatment is wrong. I don't think you deserve special treatment over anybody else any more than I do. But you deserve equal treatment, and so do I! I believe that that's what the Constitution is all about, now let's go make it work!
That means voting for people who support these principles, regardless of sex, color, religion, or party affiliation. In the long run, a well thought out vote is worth more than a bit of worn shoe leather. Think about it, then DO it!
P.S. I'll be back soon with some more usual material. I just felt a need to express my feelings or explode. RSB