I recently heard a campaign ad by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., seeking reelection. In the ad, he strives to emphasize that no racism exists and that all we need to do is to embrace each other and move forward. 

To accentuate his point, he notes that his grandfather grew up in the segregated South and that he quit school in the third grade to pick cotton and generate income for the family. And that his grandfather held no ill thoughts for his lot in life and taught Tim to love one another. It took me several times to unpack this ad before I realized that Scott is, by and large, oblivious to the message that he touts.

Love for each other is critical to rebuild our society that has been torn at the seams with discord, lies and destructive behaviors that have eroded trust. So, this part of the message is to be embraced. But does he realize what he just said?

  • Only one generation away, he notes that his grandfather grew up in a society that purposely subjugated and suppressed the hopes and dreams of fellow humans based on the color of their skin.
  • He notes that his family’s financial well-being was so crushed that his grandfather had to quit school in the third grade to make money for the family.
  • He notes that his grandfather was engaged in child labor under the probable control of some not-so-benevolent cotton farmer. Even if it was a family farm, it is still child labor.
  • He notes that his grandfather had to relinquish his chance at educational growth due to the circumstances in our society, circumstances that were out of his control and circumstances that were “designed” to perpetuate this cycle. Just because one grandson rose to become a U.S. senator doesn’t justify the continuance of such a system.

Racism is a problem for all, but particularly children, Tim Scott’s grandfather in particular. The childhood experiences of racism are recognized to occur at three levels— institutional, personal, and internalized. 

Institutional (or structural) racism refers to the social structures that continue the disadvantages for some and the advantages for others and perpetuate the system that allows it. These social structures can include neighborhoods, educational sites, pockets of poverty and legal means. When these institutional factors occur, they are real barriers. And when these barriers are present, these experiences become very personal. And then more often than not, these personal experiences become internalized by the folks living under the specter of racism, Tim Scott’s grandfather in particular.

Ibram Kendi, history professor at American University, tells us that it is not sufficient to say “I am not a racist.” Such a passive stance goes against our moral and religious teaching. We have to be active in our stance against racism, bigotry and institutional barriers that perpetuate keeping one group of citizens at a continued disadvantage. We have to be anti-racist—that is, we have to be “one who is supporting an anti-racist policy through their actions and expressing anti-racist ideas.” We have to be on the front lines opposing racism at every turn. 

Racism has existed and still exists when one considers the multiple measures (lower mean family incomes, lower financial value of housing, decreased educational attainment, decreased generational wealth, increased percentage of incarceration and so many others) that still demonstrate how the past (“the segregated South”) has not been erased and cries out for change. 

The past and present cry out for concerted efforts to address racism and seek solutions that can move us all forward. Senator Scott’s whitewashing of the past and the uncomfortable present only serves to ignore the issues and to perpetuate the inequities.

Retired pediatrician Robert A. Saul lives in Greenwood. Have a comment?  Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.

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