(Full disclaimer. I have never met or spoken with Bradley Gitz. I have, however, run into several of his opinion pieces in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Since he represents a whole line of anti-anti-racism thinking, I thought it would be interesting to reframe one of his pieces as a conversation. His original piece was entitled “Our Racial Meltdown.” I have not changed the train of thought of Mr. Gitz’s remarks and ninety-nine percent of his comments are taken verbatim. Occasionally, I had to add a few words to make him more conversational.)
Me: Brad, thanks for talking with me today. I know you often write about racism in America. How would you like to start our discussion today?
Brad: How about some observations on our continuing descent into a racial madness that threatens to undo much of what the civil rights movement accomplished.
Me: Wow, I think we would all be concerned about undoing the civil rights movement. Can you share an example?
Brad: That’s easy. The NFL, in its ongoing quest to out-woke other sports leagues, has decided to play the “Black national anthem” – “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – before all its games this fall.
Me: How is singing an anthem of the Civil Rights movement going to destroy the accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement? That seems innocent enough.
Brad: Obviously, this will make the real anthem something less than that and thus less capable of serving as a national unifier. I mean, if we have a “Black” national anthem, does that make the “Star Spangled Banner” the “white” one?
Me: Well, I’m not sure the Star Spangled Banner is great unifier. It was written by a white slave holder who including the idea of killing slaves in its second stanza? Regardless, I don’t hear anyone asking to replace it. What could be wrong with singing both songs?
Brad: (Ignoring my question) Or how about Juneteenth? Does Juneteenth become a rival to the Fourth of July and the shoddy “1619 Project” an alternative founding to 1776?
Me: So you don’t think it is possible to celebrate both days? Or to mention different narratives of our nation’s founding?
Brad: How does all this not take us back to “separate but equal?”
Me: You do realize the problem with separate and equal was never the separate part, but the equal part? Equal would mean considering the needs and desires of Black people as being as important as the needs and desires of white people. Like singing one of their songs as often as one written and enjoyed by white people. And why do you call the 1619 project shoddy? It did receive the Pulitzer Prize, the highest honor for literary writing in America.
Brad: I call it shoddy not just because of all the lies and distortions it contains but because of the shameless way its supporters refuse to even attempt to respond to prominent historians of the American founding on both left and right (Gordon S. Wood, Sean Wilentz, etc.) who have pointed out those lies and distortions.
Me: I agree that some historians have disputed specific details and assertions in the Project, but even Gordon Wood said, “Let me emphasize my wholehearted support of the goal of the project to demonstrate accurately and truthfully to all Americans the importance of slavery in our history.” That hardly sounds like condemnation.
Brad: (ignoring my response) Contrary to what the “1619 Project” claims, slavery was not introduced to the Americas in 1619. It was practiced by the Spanish in the New World long before that, and also by a number of Native American tribes. It wasn’t a unique, defining American experience because it existed just about everywhere in 1619 and in many places long after 1776, or even 1865, and the American Revolution was most definitely not fought to preserve it.
Me: I think you rightly point out one of the overreaches of the 1619 Project. The Revolutionary War was fought for a great many reasons.
Brad: My point exactly.
Me: But I am not certain I understand what else you are claiming How does people practicing slavery in Brazil lessen the relevance of the advent of slavery in the English colonies in 1619? How exactly does the fact that the Native Americans may have practiced some type of slavery make those events irrelevant? And how does the normative nature of slavery in 1619 excuse its ugliness? The point of the 1619 Project was to help us see how impactful the introduction of enslaved persons has been to our nation.
Brad: There is no reason why the historical equivalent of creationist science should be treated with respect, let alone entrenched in school curricula.
Me: How is the story of 1619 like the creation story? The creation story is about events that no person saw or recorded. The landing of the White Lion to disembark and sell enslaved people is a recorded, historic fact. Shouldn’t that be part of any thorough history of the United States?
Brad: (ignoring my question) Those supporting critical race theory (CRT) claim that all they want is to ensure that our history of slavery and racism is taught in schools. Fair enough, and something we should all be able to agree on.
Me: Well, that’s a relief.
Brad: I challenge you find an American history textbook that is widely used in high schools across the country that doesn’t already extensively cover slavery, the Civil War, reconstruction, Jim Crow, Martin Luther King, and the civil rights movement. You won’t find one and wouldn’t have two or three decades ago either.
Me: Of course, it is how we talk about those subjects that matters. In 2015, the Texas Board of Education introduced a social studies curriculum that came under wide criticism for its whitewashing of the brutalities of slavery in the American South. One of the more damning revisions was the statement, “The treatment of enslaved Africans varied. Some slaves reported that their masters treated them kindly.” Does that strike you as a lie or distortion?
Brad: (Ignoring my question) The problem with those pushing CRT in schools is that race is just about all they wish to see taught, which would produce a depiction of the American experience every bit as distorted as airbrushed versions that left such topics out.
Me: I don’t hear anyone pushing for race to be the only thing taught. I do hear people asking that we study both these past events and their impact on our present society.
Brad: The demand for racism is now outstripping the supply; hence the need to find it in all kinds of things that no one even a few years ago would have considered racist like rocks on university campuses, three-time “Jeopardy” winners holding up three fingers, and fans yelling the name of team mascots at baseball games.
Me: Those hardly seem like the primary focus of anti-racism movement. I think people are more concerned about injustices in our legal systems, the death of George Floyd and the more blatant racism that President Trump inspired. But isn’t any racism worth challenging? Wouldn’t growing awareness mean we’d see racism where we didn’t previously?
Brad: The “anti-racist” movement requires lots of racism for fuel, and – when it can’t easily be found – a rube out in Montana who utters a racial slur under his breath causes a national crisis.
Me: So there isn’t anything wrong with a Montana rube using a racial slur? I wish I thought your Montana rube was the exception, but most Black people I know would find it laughable that you think racism is hard to find in America.
Brad: To point to statistical disparities as evidence of “systemic racism” ignores the fact that disparities have existed across all ethnic and racial groups in all societies throughout history, and in many cases for reasons that have little or nothing to do with racism – usually because of cultural differences we aren’t supposed to notice or talk about.
Me: Cultural differences? You do know that argument is a classic white supremacist trope, that Blacks are culturally inferior, and this explains disparities? For example, that Blacks have less wealth because they are lazy or have a poorer work ethic. Study after study has drawn a direct connection between historic racial discrimination and these disparities, even when considering alleged cultural differences.
Brad: If racial disparities between whites and Blacks are all that are needed to prove that American society is based on white supremacy, couldn’t comparable discrepancies between Asians and whites also prove that it is built upon Asian supremacy?
Me: You do know that the Black experience in America and the Asian experience was vastly different?
Brad: The most obvious refutation of the idea that America is a land of incorrigible racism is that so many people of color continue to try so hard to get here, and that the vast majority choose to stay despite all of the alleged oppression they experience and when they could so easily leave because of the “freedom” part.
Me: Could this have more to do with the vast disparities in wealth between the US and other countries and less because people of color see the US as a racially progressive nation? I mean, I see the incorrigible racism of America and I don’t want to leave. I just want to make our country an anti-racist place.
Brad: No society on Earth has struggled so hard to provide equality and opportunity and been as successful at doing so than the United States, or inspired others to do so.
Me: I think lot of countries would dispute that claim. Frankly, until the 1960s, the US was pretty much an apartheid society, one in which Hitler and South Africa found inspiration for their use of power and legislation to control minority groups. However, I would agree there have been many Americans – especially those of color – who have worked to make the US a nation of equality and opportunity for all. Sadly, they have done so over the objections of many white people diminishing and obscuring the problem of racism.
Brad: My belief that America should always be open to mass immigration has been bolstered in recent years by the realization that so many of those coming to our country, legally or even illegally, like and appreciate it more than many of our own citizens do.
Me: I agree with you there. Many Americans don’t seem to appreciate what makes our country so wonderful – the commitment to being a more and more inclusive and diverse nation. But I’m not sure your support of mass immigration will win you much support in your circles.
Brad: In the end, a fundamental conflict has emerged regarding race and race relations in America. The original vision of the civil rights movement was based on the idea of color-blindness and integration and instructed us to treat everyone as individuals, regardless of race.
Me: Well, that would be one of those lies and distortions you despise. That is a whitewashed description of a movement that was far more complicated and varied. Remember, it included people like Malcom X as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. Even King would find your description inaccurate. The Civil Rights movement sought to equalize the application of the laws for all people. It wanted our legal system to be color blind and not our society. It was more interested in empowerment than integration. While it did hope for a day when everyone would be judged as individuals, it also understood the tremendously entrenched powers of white supremacy.
Brad: Well, the new “anti-racism” replaces these assumptions with racial essentialism and separatism and demands that we see people purely in terms of skin color, and then place them in the assigned oppressor or oppressed group.
Me: Brad, I don’t know any respected leader of the anti-racism movement making such demands. Maybe there is some Harlem rube spouting such nonsense, but you already mentioned how silly it is to give such people inordinate attention. Anti-racists believe skin color as one of the significant determinants of whether one is treated equally and cannot be ignored. They also recognize that in our present system that oppression is most often white to black.
Brad: Wrong! True Americans embrace American ideals and demand that we do a better job of living up to them. Anti-racists condemn those ideals and America itself.
Me: That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Anti-racists are precisely the people who deeply treasure that promise of “life, liberty and justice for all” and have held America to that promise since Emancipation in 1864. They have heard all your arguments time and again, that Blacks are somehow to blame for their condition, that integration means leaving their music, culture and memory behind, that the story of their arrival and treatment in America is irrelevant, that they should be grateful to live in this nation and not in the “shithole” countries they came from, and that their demands for America to live up to her stated ideals are un-American.
There is nothing new here. You’re simply regurgitating the same white supremacist tropes of your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. You are not anti-anti-racist.
Brad, you are just racist.