Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is making the media rounds these days, and invariably his introduction is as “the only black Republican in the Senate.” Last night he and TV host Trevor Noah discussed this notion of “tokenism” as he becomes the face of his party’s proposals for police reform.
There are some things I wonder, as I watch him in these interviews. The most obvious to me, as he speaks for a party that –at least at the national level — continues to insist there is no systemic racism in policing, just an extremely rare few “bad apples,” even as this well-spoken, well-dressed man reports that he has been stopped by police seven times in one year, is: How can you be a Republican?
And then I wonder how it is that the Republican party has allowed itself to get to this point, where it seems to be so far less about ideology than color and gender. It’s every bit as systemically racist to assume that every person whose skin has some range of melanin ought to move in Democratic lockstep, an unthinking voting bloc incapable of diversity of opinion on issues.
Perhaps Senator Scott, whom I had never seen before the last couple of weeks, originally joined his party of choice because of his views on issues like capitalism, immigration, abortion, the environment. But no matter why he joined, he is currently a member of a party of idolatry and not ideals, a shrinking party of white men giving every impression of wanting to further racism and suppress minority voices, who don’t believe there is a police problem in the United States and who are standing meekly by as they turn this particular issue over to their lone black member to address.
You don’t need to believe me on this issue — just look for yourself at the incoming legislators as the Class of ’18:
You might think, mightn’t you, looking at these pictures, that Republicans would say to themselves: “Wow, we need to work on some outreach. Let’s put Senator Scott — and maybe that woman from West Virginia — on that!” But no, they just keep doubling, tripling, quadrupling down on their insistence that there are no problems, and if there are, it’s the fault of brown-skinned immigrants and black people who make America’s cities such simmering cesspools of liberalism.
Thinking ahead doesn’t seem to be a strong suit of humankind, but even if you start thinking currently, or even behind, it ought to strike you at some point that this viewpoint is not sustainable. There are seven-plus billion people peopling this planet, and while I have no percentages for you, I feel quite safe in assuring you the number of white people is dwarfed by those with more pigment to their skin.
Even in this country: if we are not there yet, we are close to the day when white people will make up less than 50 percent of the U.S. population.
Maybe someone’s done this study, or perhaps there’s a fear that it would be a bad look, but sometimes I wonder, when I’m idly wondering, what it is that compelled Europeans to set out to conquer the world while enslaving the populations it encountered along the way. Even before it was Europe, Alexander of Macedonia set out to rule the world, and Rome, of course, brought the world to it.
There are exceptions to every rule, and the largest land empire ever amassed I believe belongs to Ghengis (Chingis) Khan, and even if his expanded boundary lines didn’t last long his legacy lives on: one of every 200 men in the world today carries his DNA.
But when you start thinking of cultures moving into other places on a big-league scale, most of them that come to mind — those Vikings, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Spanish and the English — all hailed from Europe, and so much of it became about white people oppressing the darker people they encountered.
I wonder why, and I have no answer for you.
But this has never been sustainable in the history of humankind, and congressional Republicans should look around their ever-shrinking island and ask for some help before it’s too late.
Not the KKK sort of help the president always reaches for, either. These “very fine” racists are celebrating a cause lost a sesquicentennial ago. It’s a cause that continues to drag out way too long, as Senator Scott surely knows, stopped seven times in one year for driving while black. (The senator also told Trevor Noah that there have been instances of minority police chiefs, out of uniform, being stopped by their own officers.)
Coming from Gunnison, I am hardly an expert on race relations. I thought I read recently that we are now 88 percent white in this county, but that 12 percent would be a big improvement over my childhood. Although I only learned when the Affordable Care Act came about, with a provision for government-supplied coverage for Native Americans, that one of my friends qualified. I’ve known him most of my life and had no idea, which seems a credit to my obliviousness. (He’s a diehard Republican, by the way.)
And I did tell a friend in college, as she was handing out “Stop Racist Attacks” stickers, that she should not put one on her door because she was the biggest racist I knew, disliking most white people on sight and telling endless “cracker” jokes. (Surprisingly, she agreed with me, but she put up a sticker anyway.)
I’ve mentioned her before: photographer Angélica Dass is documenting the variety of human skin tones, finding them to number not in white, red, yellow, brown and black, but in the hundreds. Hundreds of finely shaded human beings posing for her camera in an on-going celebration of “the chromatic range of the different human skin colors.”
What is incumbent on all of us, probably more so those of us with those European genes that make us feel so superior because we can sunburn faster than the rest of you, is to work very, very (very) hard on the notion that it really is not the color of one’s skin that matters, but the substance stored beneath it. It sounds like it ought to be easy, while clearly it’s the very opposite of that.
But if I could get myself to a point where I no longer wonder why it is that Senator Scott chooses to affiliate himself with a party of gleaming whiteness, then at least I will have achieved a small victory for myself.