COLUMN: Fighting the virus of racism

COLUMN: Fighting the virus of racism

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I’m been home-isolated now for 1,128 hours and counting. You might think, therefore, COVID-19 is all there is to talk about. But, what’s left to discuss that hasn’t been in this paper already? No, my thoughts have wandered elsewhere. I’ve been thinking about another disease.

I’ve been thinking about racism.

Racism, like a novel virus, spreads most prolifically when its existence is denied. It is only from calling attention to it, isolating its carriers, that it can be contained.

“Who are the carriers?” I asked myself. I’m a white male in America and I’ve benefited from policies that favor white males in America. I have no trouble buying a home, getting a loan, or staying in my car when pulled over. At least not because of the color of my skin.

Am I a carrier?

Pew Research reveals it’s harder for minorities to get approved for conventional mortgages and often pay higher interest rates.

The Prison Policy Initiative reveals disparities in our criminal justice system between black and white Americans.

Or we can just pay attention to how injustice is realized, i.e. Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown ...

Antidotes to unequal justice make progress at times, such as the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. But that is progress in the rear-view mirror. We have to wonder what America was, and is, if we need amendments and laws to protect Americans from Americans who don’t understand basic human rights.

The undercurrent of prejudice runs deep and the current rise of populist-nationalism, favoring white ethnic history, denies the existence of such systemic racial issues.

President Trump points out (pre-COVID) that “employment is up for African-Americans,” and his supporters call him a “culturalist,” meaning he acknowledges and accepts cultural differences.

However.

Trump categorizes races, so subtly even he may not be aware of how his white-privilege shows. That was illustrated when he said the “kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” He refers to “the” blacks and “the” Mexicans. That may seem benign, but it isn’t. “The” is a determiner to generalize a reference.

Harmless? No. It places people into categories that stereotype; it is the foundation of prejudice.

Why, it must be asked, do racist groups support the president and view him as their champion? That doesn’t mean Trump necessarily shares their beliefs or condones their actions, but it does mean they identify with his.

“They aren’t sending their best” and feverish rhetoric to cast immigrants into suspicion are dog whistles to those who are prejudiced. So was calling COVID-19 the “Chinese” virus.

I’m certain Donald Trump does not consider himself a racist, yet he promotes, consciously or otherwise, what and who is racist.

Racism is a scourge; a disease; a virus carried by extreme nationalism. To fight it we must be hyper-aware of its existence and adhere to the principles of protection: Freedom and equality.

And justice for ALL is what will determine how healthy we are.

Gary Kroeger is a former local business owner and advertising executive in Cedar Falls.

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