The Left and the Right Are Both Wrong About Racism in America

While the Left wrongly sees racism everywhere, the Right ignores the generational impact of historical racism in our country.

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The recent Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action is yet one more act in the long drama that is American race relations. Our country ranks high among nations with long-lasting and tense race relations. That should not be a surprise when we remember that at our country’s founding, when our leaders were declaring our inalienable right to freedom, we had half a million people enslaved based on their race.

Of course, our country has made much progress. We’ve ended slavery as well as official segregation. A black man has occupied the highest office of the land, and blacks are found in the corridors of power in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, and everywhere in between. No matter what some race-baiters may tell you, overt racism—defined as discrimination based solely on someone’s race—is rare in this country. Yet, as the reaction to the last Court ruling showed, there is still a lot of tension between the races today.

Both the Left and the Right have strong opinions about the way forward, and these views are diametrically opposed. So which one is correct? I would argue neither.

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First, common sense tells us that the Left is horribly wrong when it comes to race. In fact, in many ways Leftists are not just wrong, they are racistly wrong. Far from the days of advocating for a “color-blind” society, now the Left labors for a color-obsessed society. Everything is seen in light of race, no matter what the reality actually is. Our current Vice President and the latest Supreme Court justice were both picked (by a white man) based on the color of their skin. To the Left, “anti-racism” means being racist.

Thus, if a black man is arrested for committing a crime, somehow that must be a result of “systemic racism,” a term that creates a multitude of sins. If a white man advances in his career, that just proves he is benefiting from “white privilege.” Everything is race-related, according to the Left.

So even though this nation twice elected a black man to the White House, according to the Left we are actually a nation teeming with white supremacists, men and women who are no different than an early-20th century KKK member. We are one step away from lynchings on every corner of every city in America.

This is all the fault of Donald Trump. Actually, it really is. His election broke the Left. Even though many of the same people who voted for Trump also voted for Obama, the Left is convinced that every single Trump-voter is a raging racist. When you believe that over 75 million of your fellow citizens are racist, that’s going to warp your view of reality.

It’s all nonsense. In real life, race relations are generally fine. No one is giving a side-eye to the job applicant because he is black, and landlords aren’t denying housing to potential tenants due to their skin color. 

If anything, the Left’s unhinged rants about racism have caused what racism is left in this country. When the establishment—media, academia, government, and corporations—push a narrative that everyone is racist and that everyone should be judged based on the color of their skin (white bad, black good), then it’s not surprising when people start to see race more than before.

When it comes to race, then, the Left does far more harm than good. So that must mean the Right is correct when it comes to race, doesn’t it? Not so fast. Just because the Left is insane on race doesn’t make the Right automatically correct.

Conservatives too often brush away the racial history of our country. In their attempt to promote a color-blind society, they forget that we are directly descended from some horrific racial practices, in the not-too-distant past. Further, they don’t acknowledge that the very real class distinctions—distinctions that actually make a difference in life—are tied into racial differences in this country.

While the Left wants to say that certain people have disadvantages due to their race, and the Right wants to suggest that any disadvantages are one’s own fault, the truth is that people do have disadvantages (and some have “privilege”) due to class. By class I simply mean one’s income/wealth level: to say someone is “lower class” isn’t intended as an insult, but instead a statement of their financial situation.

Studies have made clear that if you are raised in the lower class, you are likely to remain in the lower class, and the same is true of the middle and upper classes as well. Individuals in the lower class have real disadvantages when it comes to advancing in life. 

These advantages/disadvantages are not just due to the amount of resources available to each group, although that is obviously a factor. Each class imparts upon its members different skills, and these skills are a major factor in determining later success in life. 

For example, the higher one’s class, the larger is one’s vocabulary, and vocabulary is a major factor in what type of jobs a person can obtain. Also, those in the lower class are much less likely to have skills like job interviewing, which also impacts one’s employment opportunities. (A great book on this subject is A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne.)

These class distinctions are unrelated to race—it doesn’t matter what your skin color is; what matters is what class you are in. The white lower class has the same disadvantages as the black lower class. However (and this is a big “however”), in this country blacks are disproportionately represented in the lower classes, and this is due to the reality of real systemic racism in our nation’s past, as seen in both slavery and segregation. The systemic racism of the past has been essentially overcome, but the generational impact still exists—it’s still difficult to climb the class ladder for those born into the lower class.  The systemic racism of the past has been essentially overcome, but the generational impact still exists—it’s still difficult to climb the class ladder for those born into the lower class. Tweet This

So a black man is less likely to get a higher paying job, not because employers are racist, but because racism in the past led his man to be in the lower class, and thus not have the skills necessary to succeed in that particular job (or have the skills to even apply for that job). To pretend that race has nothing to do with it, as many conservatives do, is turning a blind eye to the past.

I can’t emphasize enough how much class differences matter in life. I once volunteered at an organization that helps low-income people develop life/job skills. Since I live near Appalachia, the clients were both black and white. But they were all in the same boat: they didn’t know how to interview for a job; they hadn’t been taught skills like time-management and money-management, and they didn’t have the education necessary for most jobs. I would conduct mock interviews, and it was striking (and sad) how little these clients knew about how to interview for a job—but the fact is that no one had taught them.

When my children apply for their first jobs, inevitably we have the same conversation. A few days after they apply I ask them if they have heard back yet. When they say “no,” I then ask them if they contacted the potential employer to follow-up on their application. They give me a quizzical look, as if to say, “Why should I do that?” It’s not that they were dumb or lazy—they just didn’t know and I had to teach them this skill. For many in the lower class, they are never taught skills like this, and thus are put at (yet another) disadvantage.

This isn’t a question of intelligence; it’s a question of upbringing. On a whole, the lower class simply aren’t taught these skills, as most middle- and upper-class people are taught. And again, it has nothing to do with race; it is solely related to income class. But as I already noted, blacks in this country are disproportionately represented in these lower classes due to past racism.

So what is the way forward? How do we help lift people out of poverty and overcome their disadvantages, whether they are black, white, or brown? 

First, we must reject the race-centric view of the Left, which is itself racist. By crying victim at every turn, Leftists do nothing to actually help those in need. We can and should recognize the racism in our past, but that doesn’t mean some form of reverse-racism is the way forward. 

At the same time, we need to acknowledge that many people come into this world with disadvantages, and in this country, that includes a large number of blacks. As Christians, we actually don’t believe that everyone should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as some political conservatives might tell you. Yes, every person must be personally responsible for their actions, but at the same time some people are born with fewer privileges than others, and Christians are obligated to help those in need (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). 

That doesn’t mean we try to tear down those who do have privileges; instead we lift up those without, not through handouts, but by training in the skills needed to succeed in life. 

Sadly, some on the Left think these skills are “white skills” and it’s racist to teach them to non-whites. That’s nonsense. These are universal skills and they will help anyone, no matter their skin color. If we are truly serious about helping lower-class blacks—and lower-class anyone—overcome the disadvantages they are born into, then we need to help them learn the skills necessary to succeed in life.

Like many public debates today between the Left and the Right, the debate over race in this country misses the mark from both sides. We are no longer an inherently racist nation, but blacks in this country are too often at a disadvantage when it comes to advancing in life. We must see beyond the false dichotomy we’ve created if we really want to help those in need, whether they are black or white.


  • Eric Sammons

    Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine.

tagged as: Politics racism

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