Rethinking Race Relations and America’s Past

The Swiss weekly Weltwoche offered an immediate response to the judgment of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, examining the political circumstances surrounding the verdict, and the subsequent remarks by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris about the low moral state of white Americans. 

The article in this habitually centrist Swiss German paper was titled (in translation) “No reconciliation after judgment in the George Floyd case—Joe Biden pours gas into the fire and characterizes the U.S. as ‘systemically racist.’” Reporter Urs Gehriger dutifully notes the circumstances in which Chauvin was found guilty: the “atmosphere of fear and intimidation” in which the jurors reached their verdict, the warning from Black Lives Matter that “all Hell would break loose” if they didn’t like the judgment, and the activity of U.S. Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) inciting the mob gathered at the Minneapolis courthouse. 

Gehringer seems shocked that Biden would use the condemnation of Chauvin, a verdict that he inappropriately urged on the jury, to lecture his countrymen about their “systemic racism.” We might mention that Harris delivered an even more inflammatory stemwinder against white Americans at the same event.  According to Weltwoche, “Biden’s reproach was neither a true nor responsible act. Instead of healing, he polarized the country further. Instead of reconciling, he has split his nation even more deeply.”

Although the behavior of Biden, Harris, and the “fake media” in the racialization of George Floyd’s death has been as despicable as Weltwoche suggests, the reaction of the conservative establishment has not been consistently satisfactory. Conservative commentators have been right that the killing of Floyd was not really about race, but the Democratic Party, the media and BLM successfully gave it that twist. The speeches from Joe and Kamala accelerated the efforts to polarize this country around race, as conservative commentators rightly explained. But some commentators have grievously misrepresented the situation of how we reached this pass. 

A Tuesday evening conversation on Fox News between Brit Hume and Ben Domenech presented a questionable view of race relations in the United States. Hume was particularly upset because, based on our civil rights movement and the legislation it produced, Americans, he explained, hate racism. (Please tell this to our black racists.) Indeed, the civil rights movement of the 1960s was “one of the great successes in American history and awakened the conscience of the nation.” But up until that event, “blacks were subjugated,” and we were indeed “systemically racist.” Domenech blurted out something about America’s having been a “racist regime,” perhaps under Ike. 

The America in which I grew up in the 1950s was most certainly not dominated by raging white racists. Frankly, I don’t recall meeting such people (although they may have existed elsewhere). The president of our junior class in high school, Sammy White, was black; and he came from a two-parent family that attended a local Baptist church every Sunday.

In 1960, just 22 percent of black children came from single-parent families. Fifty years later, more than 70 percent of black children grow up in single-parent families. Neither whites nor blacks rioted in the Bridgeport, Connecticut of my youth; and I would be delighted if race relations were as good now as what I recall of them before the 1960s. 

Certainly, there was need for improvement; and although I don’t remember blacks being “subjugated,” discriminatory bars, we can be certain, existed for black people in Connecticut in the 1950s. I’ve also no doubt that the legal segregation that existed in Southern states was unjust; and I’m happy it’s gone. But even in Southern states American blacks had a higher standard of living and probably longer life expectancy than did blacks almost anywhere else. America was not the racist hellhole that conservatives as well as leftists seem to think it was before the 1960s. Telling Americans of all races that it used to be that way across the nation seems neither prudent nor consistently true. 

Finally, the civil rights revolution like other revolutions produced very mixed results even if we concede the benefits that came with these changes. Unfortunately, American blacks were made to think that because of landmark legislation, their major socio-economic problems could be solved through direct political action—a disastrous misconception. 

There could be no substitute for communal cooperation, hard work, and the maintenance of the family bonds that existed in the black society that I observed as a child. The Voting Rights Act, although arguably just, gave rise to unhappy consequences. We ended up with a radicalized black electorate that has empowered the racially divisive, antiwhite Congressional Black Caucus.

And perhaps most portentously, the radicalized black electorate, which is now accompanied by black rioters, has attracted lots of mischievous whites, who have joined in stirring up racial animosity. These white “antiracists” are contributing to the mayhem being unleashed by black “peaceful protesters.” Finally, and perhaps most destructively, we have national leaders who happily racialize divisions, and most black voters helped elect them.

About Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is the editor of Chronicles. An American paleoconservative philosopher, historian, and columnist, Gottfried is a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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