Sunday, May 02, 2021

Taking Tim Scott At His Word

The day after President Biden delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress and Republican senator Tim Scott gave his rebuttal, I noted

We can have a sociological or philosophical debate as to whether the USA is "a racist country."  However, if a guy who has experienced what Scott says he has experienced (and still experiences) insists that country is the greatest and not racist, he is not being candid.

Scott is, I maintained, "lying or stupid." Unfortunately, there is another alternative: he may have been telling the truth. And that probably would be the worst of all.

Veteran conservative syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, blasting Scott's "critics on the left," wrote

As a child growing up in South Carolina, Scott was often angry in school, he said, and nearly failed. That he didn’t is a credit to his single mother, who “has prayed me through some really tough times,” and his grandparents with whom, he, his mother and his brother lived. He spoke of seeing his grandfather read the morning paper each day, only to learn much later that his grandfather couldn’t read but was trying to set an example.

In other words, Scott’s is the kind of story Americans have always admired — the overcoming of adversity to become what he could not have imagined as a child.

Because it "is the kind of story Americans have always admired," it's the kind of story thousands of politicians have told throughout history.  The dates, the geography, the ethnicity change but the essentials remain the same: I really had it hard but I rose above it, and above everyone else. Young Tim did it because, prompted by the prayers of a single mother,  God blessed him. You, most Americans, have not so blessed.

If Scott had two strikes against him, got on base, and ultimately scored the winning run (became one of only 100 US Senators), good for him. But it's not good when he fails to acknowledge that in these United States of America, runs usually are scored by people who, through advantages accumulating from birth, start out at third base. Most of the others fail to get beyond first base. (Perhaps their mother didn't pray hard enough; it certainly couldn't be because they haven't been given a helping hand.)

Parker argued

The trouble among people who seem to see racism everywhere is that Scott neither sees nor dwells in a Black-and-White world. Life for Scott hasn’t been easy. As he said Wednesday, he has experienced the insults to his dignity that other minorities recognize as part and parcel of life in America. He’s been followed in stores, he said, and pulled over for no reason while driving.

Parker omitted "I get called “Uncle Tom” and the N-word — by ‘progressives’!" The tense, in which Scott stated "I get called" rather than "I previously was called," is crucial. The columnist added

So, what’s wrong with Tim Scott? Not one thing except that he’s a conservative — and Black. A child could easily recognize the unfairness of such an assessment. Anyone can see that judging Scott by his skin color is the essence of racism. The fact that Republicans admire him does not and should not diminish his accomplishments.

Well now, "anyone can see that judging Scott by his skin color is the essence of racism" is rather ironic coming from the pen (or keystroke) of one ardently defending Scott.  It may have escaped Parker's attention that the subject of her admiration himself seems not to attribute it to racism.  "Hear me clearly," Scott said, "America is not a racist country."

Hearing this, I pointed out the other day that assuming these reprehensible things happened- and are still happening, in his telling- to a respected, middle-aged pillar of the community, the only reasonable conclusion is that America is a racist country. If in light of being treated as a second-class citizen (and maybe as subhuman), Scott concludes his country is not racist, he is being dishonest or stupid.

However, there is a third possibility. Perhaps the Senator does believe that America, with a history of slavery, discrimination, and voter suppression (that, also in the present), is not a racist country. He may simultaneously assert that he is the victim of bias executed by police officers; bias practiced by store clerks, managers, and/or owners; and bias by acquaintances and/or strangers resorting to use of a racial slur 

Do you see what Scott is doing here?  Presumably, he believes the prejudice he has encountered from numerous individuals is vile.The country and its institutions should not be perceived as racist; the people of America should be. If the old red, white, and blue is as, the Senator maintains, "the greatest country on earth" while all the rest is happening to people simply on the basis of the color of their skin, the problem is not institutional or structural; it's people.

So were I ever to meet Tim Scott, I would have to confess. I should not have assumed that he is a liar or a stupid man. He may be neither, just someone who loves and reveres this country as the greatest but has only distaste for those of us living here.


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