We read and hear such phrases as “systemic racism,” and “racism is in the very DNA.” Where do such seemingly outlandish claims come from?
I have presented synopses of many books dealing with issues of race at the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare. And, the idea of “systemic” racism is about the racism that permeates thinking, and policy, throughout the land and throughout the decades. (One book I am strongly recommending these days is the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction recipient, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Read my blog post: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me – My Four Lessons and Takeaways.
Here is a passage from an equally lauded book that reveals just how rooted racism seems to be in our very DNA (at least, in some portions of the country). This book, The Worst Hard Time, won the 2006 National Book Award for Nonfiction. And the author, Timothy Egan, won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his reporting on race issues for the New York Times.
Here’s the passage, without further comment from me:
The new Governor of Oklahoma gave people hope, but he also tried to get them to hate. William Hendy David Murray had been elected in 1930 after scandal drove the last two governors from office, both of them impeached. With a campaign slogan that railed against what he called “The Three C’s – Corporations, Carpetbaggers, and Coons,” Murray won by a huge margin, 301,921 votes to 208,575. He was known as “Alfalfa Bill” for his ceaseless advocacy of agriculture as the cornerstone of society. …Oklahoma could be a great state (he said while president of the Oklahoma statehood convention in 1906) only if blacks were separated from whites and kept in the proper jobs – in the fields or factories. Next door, in Texas, lawmakers had institutionalized that sentiment forty years earlier with Reconstruction laws that said blacks could work only as field hands. Blacks were inferior to whites in all ways, Murray said, and must be fenced from society like quarantined hogs. At the start of the twentieth century, many people felt otherwise, but Alfalfa Bill tried to set his view into the proposed constitution. At the same time, he welcomed even black support, if done properly.
“I appreciate the old darkie who comes to me talking softly in that humble spirit which should characterize their actions and dealings with the white man,” he said to wide applause at the constitutional convention. Murray hated Jews as well. Blacks had some virtues, but Jews had none, in his view. Nor did he like the handful of Italians who had come to the High Plains. The “low grade races” of southern Europe, he said, were a threat to civilization. Oklahoma became the forty-sixth state only after President Theodore Roosevelt forced Murray to remove the segregationist planks of the constitution. Murray was furious; he never let go of his grudge against the Roosevelt family.
Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of those who survived the Great American Dust Bowl