This statement was made by Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who was selected by the Republican Party to give a rebuttal to President Biden’s State of The Union speech on April 29. Unsurprisingly, fierce reactions ensued immediately, with both sides of the political spectrum aggressively weighing in on social media. Hashtags such as #UncleTim, which were quickly removed from Twitter, and other intensely abrasive terms were hurled toward the center from the left side of the political spectrum. The response from the political right was complimentary and endearingly laudatory.
While there were a number of things to take issue with in Senator Scott’s rebuttal, it was the comment that “America is not a racist country” that opened Pandora’s box of commentary that flooded the blogger sphere; the op-ed pages of local, state, and national newspapers; the late-night talk show circuit; political pundits; and the chattering classes at large. To be fair, Scott was not alone in his semi-Kumbaya rhetoric. Vice President Kamala Harris made a similar statement, as well. However, she quickly made it clear that “we will never solve the problem of racism in this nation until we fully acknowledge it.” President Biden spoke in the same vein in an interview with the journalist Craig Melvin on the “Today Show.”
Tim Scott’s life is distinctive. In his rebuttal speech, he once again said that he was raised in poverty by a single mother. Moreover, he is a darling son of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. He defeated the sons of the legendary, multiple-term senator Strom Thurmond and the popular governor Carroll Campbell and won the election in what is the staunchest Republican state in the south, arguably in the nation.
The biggest problem is not Senator Scott, even though his rhetoric is sometimes laced with intellectual dishonesty, but rather the GOP’s frantic attempts to convince everybody that they are not racist by employing conservative Black people like him, Star Parker, Jason Whitlock, Candace Owens, Shelby Steele, Doreen Borelli and others who identify as Black conservatives. In essence, they provide cover for and espouse largely offensive commentary that many right-wing White conservatives do not dare to say in public. In other words, they tell the racists what they want to hear as opposed to what they need to hear.
The truth is that we do live in a racist nation. Most sane, rational, and honest Americans know this, regardless of their race or ethnic background. The question is not whether America is a racist nation but whether we need to utilize legislation, government programs, and other forms of protection to target racism.
As a Black person born and raised slightly above abject poverty in hyper-segregated South Carolina, this region has always been hostile toward governmental assistance regarding upward mobility, especially Black upward mobility. Scott is (or certainly should be) aware of the devastating impact that poverty, sophisticated or subtle discrimination, and lack of access to mainstream society can have on the victims of such social inequities and inequalities. Economic and structural racism are undeniable factors in the lives of many poor people of color.
The fact is that Tim Scott and other Black conservatives, especially those over 45 years of age, know this all too well. But instead of acknowledging such brutal facts, they resort to espousing and promoting a dangerously misguided form of “bootstrap politics” that too often places the responsibility for change on those who are being disregarded and marginalized. The truth is one has to have boots to be able to strap them. Such old-fashioned buck up, forge forward, rugged individualism language is filled with nothing but empty platitudes.
No reasonable person can deny that economic and systematic racism are potently repulsive forces in American life. They are evident in our health, educational, environmental, judicial, and political systems. Many politicians have expressed their opinion on racism: Black liberal Democrats like Vice President Kamala Harris, conservative Republicans like Senator Tim Scott, or White Democrats like President Joe Biden, and Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell know this. At the end of the day, the truth is racism is real and not debatable. Period!
Historian, public speaker and cultural critic, Elwood Watson, Ph.D., is a professor at East Tennessee State University and author of the recent book, “Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America” (University of Chicago Press), which is available in paperback and Kindle via Amazon and other major book retailers.