Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


RACISM DOES EXIST, AND THE PUSH TO BAN DISCUSSING IT IS PROOF: The message state Senate leader Phil Berger sent on Wednesday was clear. It was NOT about accurately and completely teaching American history to North Carolina’s school children. It was about perpetuating the white supremacist myth that racism doesn’t exist in today’s America. Even more, anyone who entertains a discussion about it – not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing – is anti-American and in violation of teaching standards that he seeks to impose. Perhaps most astonishing is that Berger and fellow legislative leaders have perpetuated policies that have been defined by federal courts as racist. The federal Court of Appeals in 2016, said provisions in the legislature’s voter ID law “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” That is intent. That is a clear definition of racism.

A PATRIOTIC TALK ABOUT STRUCTURAL RACISM? IT HAPPENED HERE: You can also be a patriot and still embrace the fullness of American history. Johnson believes one of the keys to realizing our country’s founding vision — the radical idea that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights — is understanding how our governing institutions have been warped by a long history of racial division. His new book, When the Stars Begin to Fall: Overcoming Racism and Renewing the Promise of America, is a call for reforming those institutions, for tackling systemic racism as an urgent threat to the core promise of our country. If we recognize racial division as not just a matter of individual hearts and minds but something deeply rooted in policy, that actually makes the path forward easier. Fixing those policy failures is an act of devoted citizenship, a way of strengthening national solidarity by working toward a more perfect union. “The incremental march to a better America, a more egalitarian America, that’s the journey,” Johnson said at Quail Ridge. “But you can’t talk about national progress if you can’t talk about the starting point.”

UNC'S HARD-EARNED REPUTATION HAS BEEN SHATTERED BY LINGERING RACISM: “White supremacists feel safer on this campus than Black students,” said Julia Clark, vice president of the University of North Carolina’s Black Student Movement. Her comments came after two self-described “western chauvinists,” brandishing Confederate battle flags, threatened to vandalize a memorial on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus to the enslaved and freed African-Americans who helped build the university. They posed for videos that were posted on twitter. One of the men said: “It’d be nice” to have “a couple of slaves.” It has been 70 years since Kenneth Lee, Floyd McKissick and James Walker enrolled – following a court order -- at the University of North Carolina Law School – the first African-American students at UNC. The slow-but-steady progress toward a campus that truly embraces ALL North Carolinians has hit a tragic detour. It seems the painful struggle that too many endured to get the state and its public universities on the righteous path is being retrodden. Less than a week after the Hannah-Jones debacle, self-avowed white supremacists are un-challenged or confronted by authorities as they desecrate a campus memorial.

THIS HISTORIAN PREDICTED JAN 6. NOW HE WARNS OF GREATER VIOLENCE: American democracy survived that coup attempt on Jan. 6. But the danger has not subsided. I called Snyder, who accurately predicted the insurrection, to ask how the history of European authoritarianism informs our current state. “We’re looking almost certainly at an attempt in 2024 to take power without winning election,” he told me Thursday. Recent moves in Republican-controlled state legislatures to suppress the votes of people of color and to give the legislatures control over casting electoral votes “are all working toward the scenario in 2024 where they lose by 10 million votes but they still appoint their guy.” History also warns of greater violence. “If people are excluded from voting rights, then naturally they’re going to start to think about other options, on the one side,” Snyder said. “But, on the other side, the people who are benefiting because their vote counts for more think of themselves as entitled — and when things don’t go their way, they’re also more likely to be violent.” The extinguishing of our Reichstag fire on Jan. 6 made Trump’s failed coup less like 1933 Germany than 1923 Germany, when Hitler’s clownish Beer Hall Putsch failed. Historically, most coup attempts fail. “But a failed coup is practice for a successful coup,” Snyder said. This is what’s ominous about the Republicans’ determination to sabotage investigations that could help us learn from the Jan. 6 insurrection. Also ominous is the move in many Republican-controlled states to ban schools from teaching about systemic racism — “memory laws,” Snyder calls them — which “feeds into this authoritarian turn” by providing cover for the new attempts to disenfranchise more non-White voters. “They’re trying to ban the discussion of things like voter suppression, and it’s precisely the history of voter suppression which allows us to see it for what it is,” Snyder said.

WHY PEOPLE ARE SO AWFUL ONLINE: Increasingly, I’ve felt that online engagement is fueled by the hopelessness many people feel when we consider the state of the world and the challenges we deal with in our day-to-day lives. Online spaces offer the hopeful fiction of a tangible cause and effect — an injustice answered by an immediate consequence. On Twitter, we can wield a small measure of power, avenge wrongs, punish villains, exalt the pure of heart. In our quest for this simulacrum of justice, however, we have lost all sense of proportion and scale. We hold in equal contempt a war criminal and a fiction writer who too transparently borrows details from someone else’s life. It’s hard to calibrate how we engage or argue. After a while, the lines blur, and it’s not at all clear what friend or foe look like, or how we as humans should interact in this place. After being on the receiving end of enough aggression, everything starts to feel like an attack. Your skin thins until you have no defenses left. It becomes harder and harder to distinguish good-faith criticism from pettiness or cruelty. It becomes harder to disinvest from pointless arguments that have nothing at all to do with you. An experience that was once charming and fun becomes stressful and largely unpleasant. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. We have all become hammers in search of nails. One person makes a statement. Others take issue with some aspect of that statement. Or they make note of every circumstance the original statement did not account for. Or they misrepresent the original statement and extrapolate it to a broader issue in which they are deeply invested. Or they take a singular instance of something and conflate it with a massive cultural trend. Or they bring up something ridiculous that someone said more than a decade ago as confirmation of … who knows? Every harm is treated as trauma. Vulnerability and difference are weaponized. People assume the worst intentions. Bad-faith arguments abound, presented with righteous bluster. And these are the more reasonable online arguments. There is another category entirely of racists, homophobes, transphobes, xenophobes and other bigots who target the subjects of their ire relentlessly and are largely unchecked by the platforms enabling them. And then, of course, there are the straight-up trolls, gleefully wreaking havoc.


MARSHA PRESNELL-JENNETTE: RALEIGH COULD LEARN A THING OR TWO FROM BOULDER: Having spent considerable time in Boulder, I have experienced differences between Raleigh and Boulder that put our area far down the list. Boulder residents support healthy living. Many residents ride bicycles and walk to their destinations. They are safe doing so because drivers do not speed through their streets. They obey all safe driving rules — unlike we experience in our fair city. Boulderites like living in a clean city so they don’t litter. Throwing trash on the streets and in parks seems acceptable to too many Raleigh residents. Boulder likes its older homes and has tight restrictions regarding tearing down older homes. Remodeled homes must blend into the neighborhood. Also, Boulder has long valued public art and protects its trees. I think Raleigh could learn a lot from Boulder.

RANDY STURGILL: IT'S TIME FOR THE U.S. TO BAN THE SHARK FIN TRADE: With another Shark Week just behind us, it’s important to remember that sharks are in trouble. The demand for shark fins incentivizes overfishing and shark finning, the cruel practice of removing a shark’s fins at sea and throwing the shark back, where it drowns, starves to death, or is eaten alive by other fish. Fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the market every year. I call on Congress to remove the U.S. from the shark fin trade once and for all by passing the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. We need a fin ban now. I've been following Randy and Oceana for some time now, and their tireless work protecting our coastal ecosystems from offshore drilling and other man-made hazards has been critical.

JEANIE ADAY: POLITICS IS BEING INJECTED INTO MY CLASSROOM, BUT NOT BY ME: Politics have entered my classroom, and it wasn’t me who put them there. House Bill 324 will give parents authority to complain to administration about what we’re teaching, claiming it makes their child feel bad even if what we taught wasn’t Critical Race Theory. As a history teacher I don’t teach anyone how they should feel about the past. I give students the materials, primary and secondary sources, and let them figure out what they believe on their own terms. This bill instills fear of hurting feelings to the point that teachers will be pressured to censor history. None of us should have the authority to pick and choose what history should be remembered and forgotten. Teachers already have a difficult job. N.C. legislators make it harder by placing a political arena in my classroom.



Everything is a competition...

Riffing on that "online awfulness" op-ed above, I believe a great deal of that aggressive behavior is Ego-driven. As opposed to a genuine distrust or anger at the subject of our ire. We may feel the latter, but in most cases it's our ego that creates that feeling as a mechanism (an excuse?) to prove our knowledge on the subject is greater than that person's.

Now, that sounds like a flaw? But in fact it is a primal instinct, a biological imperative we are hard-wired with to promote our physical and intellectual security, with the end goal of procreation.

But Steve, I've already had children, and don't want anymore!

Sorry. One of these days we might be able to alter our DNA and remove that imperative. But not today.

But here's the thing: Just the knowledge of this ingrained factor can help us recognize it when it's influencing our behavior, and maybe we'll edit our comment from, "You forgot to mention..." to "Lots to think about here, thanks."

But it's not just the desire to elevate our own intellect over others that drives some of these conflicts. It can be our dedication to an issue that needs to be exposed and promoted. And that often entails the years we have been aware of and concerned about said issue. A comment that begins with, "Back in 2009..." can often be translated as, "My 12 years of dealing with this trumps your recent discovery of this problem." Again, that may not have been our intent, but don't forget our Ego is driving the bus.

Where did I get these examples of Egoism? From myself, of course. And it's quite possible (likely) my Ego drove me to write this critique of my Ego, as mind-bending as that sounds.