Racism rooted deep in American history proves the ignorance of those who would deny our failures

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The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Samuel Paunetto holds a bachelor’s degree in general sociology from Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, a master’s degree in divinity from Seminario Evangelico de Puerto Rico, and a master’s degree in clinical social work from Wichita State University.

In the wake of the controversy over critical race theorywe could see school boards and legislative bodies saying that history curricula needed to be more “balanced,” that “both sides” needed to be included, that students needed to be exposed to different viewpoints.

Conservatives wanted schools to teach “both sides” of the Holocaust, “both sides” of slavery, “both sides” of the Native American genocide, “both sides” of the Civil War. The academic consensus has been clear for decades: there are no two sides to these matters. There are decades of research and scholarly work around these themes in the disciplines of sociological and historiographical scholarship.

From now on, the GOP is finding new ways to weaponize the themes of race, gender, and other systemic disparities that affect our society daily. Their clear intention is to throw red meat at their base and win the election. In the years since the start of Trumpism, we have seen an increase in racist and anti-immigrant sentiments from this particular database.

The strategy has been to create the idea that topics related to history or systemic disparities have different points of view, that they are open to different opinions. Former President Donald Trump did this when he spoke of “great people on both sidesduring the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. By creating this illusion, hateful ideologies such as white supremacy, white nationalism, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, and racism can be normalized, minimized, and presented as acceptable and tolerable expressions in society.

Elections like the gubernatorial race in Virginia have been determined by the CRT controversy in schools. The GOP candidate created the illusion that the CRT was part of the current program. Then it included any kind of education that tackles structural racism or discrimination in schools.

In this way, any attempt to educate people about diversity and inclusion, or any initiative that works with addressing racial disparities in public health, is seen by these groups as anti-American propaganda and unpatriotic.

U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, speaks at a November 16, 2021 rally in Washington, DC, for parents who oppose mask mandates and the teaching of racism in schools . (Ariana Figueroa/States Newsroom)

The reality is that studies related to systemic racism, poverty, white privilege, or inherent white supremacy have decades of data collection, data analysis, and academic work behind them. The academic consensus in the fields of sociology, history, and psychology regarding the short- and long-term effects of these social phenomena has been overwhelmingly clear for many years.

The problem is that most Americans have a poor social theory lens, in part because of poor social studies courses at the primary and higher levels. Most people will not pursue these types of advanced studies unless they choose a career in the social services field.

Before sociology became a discipline of higher education, we had a set of sociological and social theories. Most of these theories developed during the Enlightenment period. They are based on the observation of disparities and conflicts related to class, race, gender and socio-economic/political systems. I have seen people in the media accuse academia of being “Marxist”.

These comments ignore the fact that Marx was one of the main figures of the Enlightenment period. Moreover, communism is only one of many theories of Marx. His theories on how to predict market behavior in relation to output are unparalleled and relevant today.

All the fathers of sociology, such as Comte, Marx, Webber, and Durkheim, viewed social conflict as a lens through which we can understand the behavior of society. These lenses are anti-oppressive because they identify conflict between the ruling class and the working class as resulting from systems that value production at the expense of humanity.

Our country was founded on the principles of white supremacy and slavery. Our fundamental ideologies are influenced by imperialism, colonialism, and the worst margins of Western Christianity. They are the primary source that informs our attitudes, behaviors and automatic responses to diversity, race, multiculturalism and gender.

This is what we mean when we talk about racism and other forms of “embedded” or “rootedin our culture.

Patriarchy informs how we respond to gender, sexuality, and domestic roles. White supremacy informs how we interact and interpret scenarios of race, migration, and otherness. Western Christianity has provided the religious narratives that have justified these ideologies for centuries.

Patriarchy informs how we respond to gender, sexuality, and domestic roles. White supremacy informs how we interact and interpret scenarios of race, migration, and otherness. Western Christianity provided the religious narratives that justified these ideologies for centuries. These ideologies not only operate in the white ruling class, but they also operate in minorities through assimilation and colonialism. The oppressed defend the system created by the oppressor, like those with Stockholm Syndrome defend their captors.

That’s what we mean when we say racism is as American as apple pie, or the very air we breathe. These are not exaggerations. Studies done on systemic racism and mental health show how patterns of systemic trauma influence learning disabilities, mental illness, poverty rates, and health outcomes with damaging and deadly outcomes.

There are no “two sides” when it comes to saying that systemic racism is a determining factor that directly affects inequalities and human relations. Health outcomes, wealth accumulation, employment, and access to education and health care are strongly influenced by systems.

As social scientists, we’re not saying that personal choices and bad decisions don’t play a role in individual outcomes. People bear responsibility for their actions. But the reality is that most studies on this topic show that societal structures outweigh individual action when it comes to determining behaviors, decision-making, and mental health. Especially now with social media, the power of systems to determine what people think or believe has increased tenfold.

Conservatives are in denial, not only of the history of these systems, but also of how they are still active and affect our current history.

As a Puerto Rican, an example that strikes me is US imperialism. Its existence is evident in graduate studies in the social sciences. After the Spanish-American War, the United States exploited resources in Latin America and the Caribbean. He destabilized economies and manipulated local elections to benefit corporate America. From the creation of the banana republics for Bootstrap operation in Puerto Rico, Operation Condor in South America, to 57 military invasions in the region, the trail of blood created conditions that still fuel migratory movements today. This is the type of content that is not covered in schools.

Most Americans don’t know how we became a wealthy nation, how wealth was transferred from exploited countries to our economy. In the United States, 60% of wealth is inherited and comes from activities related to slavery, mass incarceration, colonialism, illegal land grabbing and exploitation of other countries. One way or another, most Americans believe in the myth of a self-made, hard-working country. To add insult to injury, inherited wealth is exempt from capital gains tax up to $10 million.

Our ingrained racism blocks our path to becoming a nation.

A mural on the third floor of the Statehouse, outside the Old Supreme Court Chamber, commemorates Brown v. Board and the struggle for the desegregation of schools. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Board v. Brown was decided in 1954, but the last school district to integrate did so in 2016. Studies show that the growth of new suburban school districts is a racist tool to avoid diversity and multiculturalism and enact redlining through an increase in property taxes. Only 13% of the marriages are interracial, and signs of white anxiety due to the browning of America are everywhere. The real path to unity is to stop resisting racial and cultural integration.

To understand these truths is not to assume an anti-American position or to be unpatriotic. We can recognize the greatness of the United States as a unique experiment in democracy. We can talk about the brilliance of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We can be proud of the achievements in infrastructure, scientific innovation and the potential we have as a multicultural melting pot to become a new kind of country.

To achieve this, we must overcome bigotry and ignorance, and elevate education as a powerful tool in the quest to achieve true reconciliation and unity.

As we see the rise of hatred in America and the structures of white supremacy set up to protect their power, I ponder the four questions asked by WEB Dubois when also faced with the challenge of structural racism and hate:

  1. What does integrity do in the face of oppression?
  2. What does honesty do in the face of lies/deceit?
  3. What does decency do in the face of insult?
  4. How does virtue meet brute force?

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own review, here.

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