Over the years, I’ve heard well-meaning people argue that events including the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King, the questioning of Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and the slaying of Trayvon Martin have nothing to do with race or racism. The impulse to deny or minimize racism, to contrive any other explanation (Occam’s razor be damned) for even the most racially charged incidents, is an ongoing, pernicious feature of American life. And it provokes a necessary backlash from folks who want fellow citizens to see what is in front of their noses.
Anti-racism has its own excesses at the opposite extreme—that Oberlin’s dining hall serves inauthentic sushi, for instance, is not an example of racism in American life, and such claims only make it more difficult to win hearts and minds.
But those excesses do nothing to alter more important realities: that police culture in cities like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, has disproportionately harmed and brutalized African Americans for decades; that Joe Arpaio spent years violating the civil rights of Hispanics in Maricopa, County, Arizona; that innocent Muslims are routinely targeted in hate crimes, especially after terrorist attacks; that most Jewish journalists I know are taunted with anti-Semitism on Twitter; that white supremacists have recently slaughtered people at a Sikh temple and an African American church; that many African Americans continue to feel the burdens of decades of racist housing policies that plundered their wealth; that the president of the United States lashed out at Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and Muslims in a campaign where he deliberately stoked ethnic tensions.