Wissot: Own your prejudices
I don’t have an unbiased bone in my body. Bigotry is in my blood. Not the kind of bigotry liberals accuse conservatives of committing. I’m a liberal, after all. No, I’m guilty of harboring bigoted feelings toward the very people liberals freely refer to as racist, homophobic, misogynistic.
I don’t like the groups who don’t like the groups I like. More specifically, I don’t like the fringe factions in this country who have gone out of their way to make it harder for Black and brown people to vote, for women to gain legal access to abortions, for millions of DACA recipients to gain a pathway to citizenship, for scientists struggling to overcome the conspiratorial nonsense spread by ignorant know-nothings.
How do my prejudices influence my behavior? Let me give you an example. I was filling out my ballot on Election Day a few weeks ago. When it came to picking a candidate for the Denver school board, I had no idea as to who I should select. I knew nothing about any of them. Then I associated a name with a campaign brochure I received in the mail. It was for a Black man, and that’s who I picked.
Why? I’m wired for affirmative action. When I see an opportunity to advance the ambitions of a Black person over a white person, I let my racial prejudices dictate my decisions. Unless a white candidate for political office is clearly more qualified, I opt for helping individuals from historically discriminated groups.
Was that fair to the white school board candidates? Hell, no. I wasn’t trying to be fair. I was voting my prejudices.
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I’m asking Trump supporters reading this column to follow suit. Own your prejudices. Admit that you want to prevent communities of color from helping Democrats win elections. White people have been voting their prejudices since the election of George Washington in 1789. In the 232 years that followed, only four people, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, have been elected either president or vice-president who weren’t white Protestant men. Did the majority white, Protestant population base their votes on merit, talent and ability or gender, race and religion? I’ll leave it for you to decide.
I don’t think it’s racist to vote for politicians from your own racial background. I don’t vote that way because being white isn’t something that matters to me. I take no pride in the color of my skin. But many white people strongly identify with being Caucasian. I think they have every right to base their vote on race, but so do communities of color.
The so-called voter integrity bills introduced in 47 states weren’t designed to combat alleged voter fraud but to stifle the growth in minority voter turnout. Claims of voter fraud are the smokescreen used to camouflage the prejudices of white voters who no more want to see African Americans and Latinos become a more potent political force than Republican politicians want to lose their cushy government jobs.
The second piece of misinformation making the rounds is that Critical Race Theory is being taught in public schools. It isn’t. CRT was introduced in the 1980s by a Harvard law professor, Derrick Bell, and is taught to law students in law schools. The nuances and ramifications of systemic racism in the law is a topic far too complex and sophisticated for K-12 students to understand.
What parents who are clueless about what CRT means are really opposed to is including any information about race and racial discrimination in the teaching of American history. The ugly truths that they don’t want taught to their children are that slavery, segregation and lynchings were what white people did to Black people beginning in the early 17th century and ending in the mid-20th century.
Leaving those parts of our past out of a history class reduces the subject to a mythological fairy tale in which racial prejudice is not mentioned because it might make adolescent white children feel guilty. Learning about the good and the bad of who we are and what we have done as Americans is why history is studied.
Racial progress and racist progress aren’t mutually exclusive. Barack Obama becoming president was a sign of racial progress followed by Donald Trump’s election in 2016 which symbolized racist progress. The burden of proof rests with those who deny racism has been an inherent problem in America since its earliest origins to show when white lives haven’t mattered more than Black lives.
You can ignore history to your own detriment, but it’s madness to invent your own set of absurd replacement facts because the real facts upset you. If you get your information from Fox News, OAN, Newsmax or the lunatics at QAnon, you wouldn’t know that Joe Biden won, Donald Trump lost, vaccines are safe and effective, masks reduce the spread of diseases, ANTIFA wasn’t responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrection, and the rioters who ransacked the Capitol weren’t peaceful, patriotic protestors.
The way to remain blissfully ignorant is to accept at face value the disinformation disseminated on right wing media outlets. Relying on a serial liar like Tucker Carlson for factual information, as many of the Trump faithful do, is like hiring an arsonist to put out fires. Carlson holds a Ph.D. in manure, which comes in handy because his huge viewing audience loves to be fertilized.
Reaching a truce on truth by distinguishing fact from fiction is essential to our closing the toxic partisan divide. I’m not looking for a “Kumbaya” moment here. I’m not a “Kumbaya” kind of guy. I don’t care if our prejudices make it impossible for us to like each other. I just want to prevent them from unraveling the threads of the longest running and most successful democracy in history.
Americans not liking each other is as American as apple pie.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.