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Tim Scott is right. America has made progress. But it’s still racist

In this image from Senate Television video, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., delivers the Republican response to President Joe Biden's speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Washington. (Senate Television via AP)Associated Press

See Tim Scott. Tim Scott is Black. He’s experienced racism and bad policing. But he made it to Congress and Christianity saved his life. So, to him, America isn’t a racist country.

He’s right. America isn’t just a racist country. It’s a supremacist and individualistic nation where sometimes those who manage to navigate its hurdles tend to deny the systemic realities of a rotten foundation.

Those of us who manage to “make it” sometimes are disillusioned by the privilege and power and want to believe bootstrapping one’s way out of inequities is possible. It feels better to believe that there are a few racists rather than a series of systems designed to divide and oppress.

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But acknowledging an unjust system does not pull us further apart. An unjust system and a supremacist culture draw our dividing lines.

State Representative Brandy Fluker Oakley of the 12th Suffolk District believes we struggle with transparency around racism in America.

“Thinking about the atrocities that happened with the Holocaust, what Germany does that America has yet to do, is make it fully part of the curriculum. Germany owns up to it, but for some reason, people here feel like if we talk about racism, we can never get past it. I don’t think that serves us. America absolutely has its origins in racism, and there are still policies and practices in place that perpetuate systemic racism. The truth cannot operate on a sliding scale. That doesn’t solve anything for us as a nation,” Fluker Oakley said.

We cannot heal without truth and reparations. We cannot come together on lies and the facade of freedom.

Scott was chosen to deliver the Republican response to President Biden’s first joint address to Congress Wednesday night because he is a Black man, the lone Black GOP senator, one who has genuinely experienced racism. He said race is being used as a weapon, and, in some ways, he is right. He was used by the GOP to uphold and protect a system that has little interest in an equitable America.

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Scott said his party wants to protect elections. Hundreds of pieces of legislation recently passed that restrict voting rights say differently. Scott said the Democratic Party won’t pass his policing bill. But Scott’s bill doesn’t want to end qualified immunity. Scott doesn’t want to outright ban chokeholds or demilitarize police. And so much of the legislation coming from his party is rooted not in togetherness but firmly in racism, xenophobia, and classism.

Scott seemingly believes that by embracing an antiracist movement, we are in a state of anti-whiteness.

“A hundred years ago, kids in classrooms were taught the color of their skin was their most important characteristic — and if they looked a certain way, they were inferior,” Scott said during Wednesday night’s rebuttal.

“Today, kids again are being taught that the color of their skin defines them — and if they look a certain way, they’re an oppressor. From colleges to corporations to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress. By doubling down on the divisions we’ve worked so hard to heal,” he added.

We don’t have to reach back 100 years to see the ways in which schools are complicit in racism. It hasn’t even been 100 years since Brown v. Board of Education. In 2021, schools continue to reflect inequities when we look at testing, funding, food, punishments, and policing. And the textbooks teach revisionist history that whitewashes American truths.

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Racism should not be a topic we run from. It is necessary for us to acknowledge the foundation upon which our country was built and we still stand upon today. Yes, we’re progressing. We have the most inclusive Congress to date. So many individual Black people and people of color have opportunities they would have been denied in the past. But this alone does not solve racism.

“Even if individuals are not acting in overtly racist ways or deliberately racist, they are still operating within institutional and structural racism,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights.

“We can move towards a more antiracist and equitable society every day but that doesn’t mean that we have completely dismantled all of the institutions and structures of racism. We can make significant progress while still remaining very much a place with a lot of work to do to move the needle on racial justice and equity,” she said.

I believe we will always be doing the work to combat the hunger for hierarchy. In a supremacist country, racism is not our only oppressive measure.

We are all as Americans complicit in power structure in a country addicted to being the most powerful. Each of us has more power and privilege than someone else. To understand that, we have to know our past and present, and that our society benefits some and hurts others.

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To know that is to begin to build bridges and destroy inequity. To acknowledge racism and supremacy is not to discriminate.

“You know this stuff is wrong. Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country,” Scott said. “It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different discrimination. And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”

Hear me clearly: Our past is our present. And if we don’t learn and create change across party lines, it will be our future, too. The mistake was thinking our nation ever had true healing and togetherness.

In 2021, we still have kids separated from their families at the border due to xenophobic policies. Kids are in danger thanks to anti-transgender legislation. Kids are being killed by police. Kids are scared their grandparents might be attacked on streets and blamed for COVID.

Antiracism is not hurting our children or our country. Supremacy is the American danger.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee and on Instagram @abeautifulresistance.