Can we talk? Just talk. Comfortably and uncomfortably. But thoughtfully. Truthfully.
If ever there has been a time and need for it, locally, regionally and nationally, it is now — with all the anger, confusion, deliberate provocation and plain denial.
We see, still, so much anger and confusion conjured by the simple phrase "systemic racism" — the sometimes intended and sometimes unintended denial of the inheritance from our imperfect founding in an time and place that accepted slavery.
Truthfully, there is nothing simple about systemic racism — the history of which the Tennessee General Assembly wants kept out of our children's social studies classes.
In 2020, Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "The phrase describes a society that is so little racist that no one can respectably advocate racism, yet so much racist that every part of it is soaked with racism."
On the other hand, another professor, Matthew Franck, has written in Public Discourse that the term connotes "a conspiracy theory with no conspirators, an unfalsifiable, undeniable thesis." Attributing racism to an entire economic and social system ends up blaming everyone and no one and provides cover for the few actual racists: "If everyone in general but no one in particular is to blame, the few remaining actual racists among us are let off the hook."
Frankly, both assessments are overstated, but both also make significant points. Our aim here today is neither to define systemic racism nor excuse it, but rather to encourage systemic community conversation about how we grow to be a more united community and country. And about how we learn to love who we are — who we all are.
Speaking of denial, another quandary ripe for dissection is why and how the Republican Party saw fit to oust Liz Cheney from party leadership because she wouldn't fall in line with a dwindling GOP bent on continuing the election lie for Donald Trump — a guy who provoked a violent attack on our Capitol in an effort to steal the 2020 election.
Cheney was punished while a guy who is resuming his aggressive lies to convince some of us that the election was stolen from him gets louder and louder. This is a man who lost by 7 million votes to Joe Biden, while Biden won 81 million votes — by far the most votes any presidential candidate has ever received.
Every state certified the election. The Electoral College voted and awarded the presidency to Biden. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple judges Trump appointed, rejected the former president's lawsuits claiming election cheating. Trump's own Department of Justice investigated his claims of widespread fraud and found no evidence to support them.
Trump lied and lost. And he lost and lied. He still lies, and Cheney got ousted for not lying with him (and with much of the rest of the GOP).
She did not go meekly, but instead walked straight to a microphone and said, in part:
"We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution ... I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office. We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language ... We cannot be dragged backward by the very dangerous lies of a former president."
Likewise, we cannot deny the imperative of fair wages and the dignity of work by keeping ourselves chained to the past because we fear change.
That brings us to disgust and befuddlement with the thinking of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in their separate but equal discussions of joining other states in the Mid-South in saying "no thanks" to federal unemployment COVID relief benefits.
These governors say the extra $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit in place since January (over Tennessee's $30 to $275 aid for up to 26 weeks and Georgia's $55 to $365 a week for up to 20 weeks) is keeping employers from getting people back to work, especially in the hospitality and restaurant industries.
These are the Tennessee and Georgia folks most likely being hired at minimum wage: $7.25 an hour ($290 a week for 40 hours, less deduction of federal taxes) or $2.13 an hour for tipped employees.
Employers: Offer a fair wage and folks will prefer to make that extra jingle for real work.
Failing that, these folks who have worked in entry level jobs in restaurants and hotels will hold out hoping to find higher wages and better working conditions. After all, there are 8.1-million jobs open nationwide.
Liz Cheney — on the eve of her ouster, instead of conforming to keep her GOP leadership — gave us a go-by for each of these tough American-made denials. She stood up for what is right.
"This is about our duty as Americans," she told her House colleagues. "Remaining silent, and ignoring the lie, emboldens the liar ... We must speak the truth."
Let's speak the truth in all of our immediate quandaries: racism, politics and fair labor practices, climate — whatever. Bring it on.