Race. Bigotry. Is this the right question to ask?

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Bob Chernow

Everett Dirksen, Republican senator from Illinois, helped to pass the Civil Rights Bill. Lyndon Johnson told Dirksen that the Democrat Party would be in the wilderness for two generations in the South. That was more than a half a century ago. We are witnessing that transition now.

And indeed change in race relations is coming faster, in part because of Donald Trump’s racist talk and his lack of empathy. That, plus the murder of George Floyd by a smiling police officer in Minneapolis has made Americans look themselves in the mirror. And they don’t like what they see.

My daughter’s 3½-year-old child is white. I have photos of her hugging and playing with kids who are blond, black, and yellow. She is not conscious of differences. When I look at her playing, I think of the South Pacific song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” about how fear, hatred, and prejudice are learned.

This musical went on Broadway just after World War II, in 1949, more than 70 years ago, but it brings to mind that bigotry is learned and not natural. It is passed on by family and society.

We need to educate our children to see others as humans and not to categorize them by what they look like. In part this was the idea behind integrating schools, which also led to the unanticipated flight of whites from cities. Did whites move because of skin color or having their children go to school with children from poverty? Perhaps both!

Recently I broke bread with one of my Army buddies. We discussed this article and my buddy volunteered that he grew up in a company town where the population had a wide spectrum of race and ethnicity. This town was a poor, but no one was raised as racist.

My professor at the University of Wisconsin, Ed Zawacki, created the Open Cities concept. The U.S. was in the Cold War, and many feared a nuclear disaster. Zawacki believed that we and the Soviets should exchange entire cities, in part as “hostages” but really to have populations understand each other. If people knew each other, he thought, they would not want to kill each other. It was a great, but impractical idea. Eisenhower eventually adopted his idea as “Open Skies.”

In 2015 I published an op-ed piece in BizTimes titled “Severe Polarization in US Could End in 5-7 Years.” Some points I made then are still pertinent. For instance, young people differ in their view of homosexuality, religion, race, and gender than older folk. These younger people are comfortable with differences. They do not care how others live. They do care about politics, which are viewed as values. I referred to a Pew survey which said that we are becoming less Christian in the U.S. In 2007, 78% of American practiced some type of Christianity; that number fell to 70.6% recently. Some young Evangelicals are leaving their churches because of anti-homosexual positions and because many of their churches have become more political, than spiritual.

The same Pew survey supports this view as only half of Millennials identify as Christian. More than one-third do not affiliate with any religion.

Our demographics are rapidly changing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 46% increase of American population by 2050. Hispanics will grow from 15% of the population to 30%; whites will decline from a 67% majority to 47%, still big, but no longer a majority. Asians will increase from 5% to 9%, and include populations from China, Southeast Asia, India, and Pakistan. Blacks will only increase from 14% to 15%. Much of this population shift has to do with birth rates and immigration, which has stalled legally, but not illegally (much illegal immigration comes from people overstaying their visas, not from the “border.”)

So the future is upon us. Parts of the white population feel fear with these trends, which are apparent to all. This explains the rise of “white power” groups.

Better race relations are coming, but they will not be as easy as the acceptance of homosexuality, which has become part of the mainstream over the past decade.

I was a volunteer in the U.S. Army. It is a simple truth that you cannot serve in the field and identify soldiers by their race, religion, or place of origin. You need to see them as individuals. You need to accept and respect people. Otherwise, they will not have your back in the field. Is this a good framework for the future? If not, it ought to be.

So let me return to my original, opening question: Is the question “race”?

We have challenges in our communities that have roots in slavery and reconstruction. But most of our current challenges are based on homelessness for children, especially those who have “aged” out of foster care when they are 18, poverty, poor or no housing, lack of education, poor nutrition, and bad foster care.

I recognize these problems. Indeed, a foundation that I chair has worked with several nonprofits that help to reduce these stresses. But these challenges are being met like the Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike. He can only hold back the water for a short time. We need to look at the roots of these problems; we need to be preventive.

The basics ought to include better prenatal and postnatal care, early childhood learning, better dietary education, and increased sex education to reduce unwanted children. But we are reacting to problems, rather than solving problems. We need to expose our children to folks who look different, and we need to teach in schools and by example that folks should be viewed as humans, for whom acceptance and respect is paramount.

In its July 2020 issue, Foresight Signals cited consultant Judith H. Katz’s identification of “white culture” as including deferred gratification, planning for the future (and believing in progress and a better future). But I see her “white culture” as something that immigrants strive to achieve so that their hard work will improve things for their children. As a goal, these are good ideals should not be seen only as “white culture.”

About the Author
Bob Chernow is an investment broker and CEO of The Tellier Foundation. He was Vice Chair of the World Future Society. Among his successful predictions were the S&L/Mutual Savings Bank collapse, the future of women in business, the future of the mortgage backed bond and the sub-prime crisis.