COLUMN: Racism, bigotry on Capitol Hill: More prevalent than your representatives would have you think

By Jack McMillin

One of the most prevalent myths in our society is the idea that racial discrimination is a thing of the past, that the civil rights movement is complete, and that racism is no longer accepted in polite society.

None of these myths are true, and the people who would have you believe them to be so are usually the ones with the most to hide. Anyone who honestly believes that racism is not something they deal with on a daily basis, and possibly even propagate themselves, needs to take a look around. Bigotry may be closer than you think.

How many times have you had a conversation with somebody who claims “I’m not racist,” and then goes on to say something completely ignorant?

In the past few months, I have had a couple of interesting conversations about affirmative action with someone who goes to this University, and one with someone that does not. One of these discussions ended after the genius on the other end said something like, “I don’t agree with it, but I can see why a city would give contracts to black-owned businesses, even though they probably won’t do as good of a job.”

When someone makes the claim that black-owned businesses are going to do a worse job, where does that attitude come from? Is it more likely that they have data from an objective analysis of every construction business in the city, or that they are basing their judgment on racist attitudes?

Another example of not-so-hidden racism is the affection of some of our fellow citizens feel for the Confederate flag. An amendment against flag burning passed the House of Representatives and nearly passed the Senate this year. Yet at the same time, the most anti-American symbol you can imagine, a symbol of war against America and of slavery, is popular. Neo-Nazi groups in Germany use the Confederate flag because the swastika is illegal there. They sell little Confederate flag phone covers at a kiosk in Marketplace Mall.

Now you might say that the only people that like the Confederate flag are fringe right-wing crazies who are out of touch with reality, and I’d agree with you about that. But there are quite a few of these out-of-touch crazies in powerful positions in our government.

Take for example U.S. Senator George Felix Allen. Allen, who was born in California, enjoyed flying the Confederate flag in his dorm room and wore a Confederate flag pin in high school, in California. He was also known to hang a noose in his law office. In August, while he was giving a speech to an all-white crowd and being videotaped by S.R. Sidarth, an American-born student at the University of Virginia, he referred to Sidarth as “macaca” multiple times. His exact words were “Let’s give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” Macaca of course is a racial slur derived from “Macaque,” a type of monkey. It should be noted that until Allen’s public meltdown, he was favored by many conservative groups as a frontrunner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

Another example in which racism is hiding in plain sight in American political discourse is HR 4437, the bill to build a 700-mile fence across the U.S.-Mexico border and make a felon out of anyone who gives any sort of assistance to undocumented immigrants. There really isn’t much that needs to be said about this bill, the racism is so blatant. Yet our honorable congressman Timothy V. Johnson voted for this bill, and the bill passed the House of Representatives.

In a column that appeared last week in The Daily Illini, the argument was made that the United States should provide assistance to the economy of Mexico both because it is the right thing to do, but also because this would stem the tide of immigration. That may sound benign, but the assumption there is that we actually want to decrease the amount of people coming from Mexico to the United States. We should ask ourselves, why would anyone want this?