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Racism and Truth

July 25, 2016

My liberal leanings are no doubt apparent to most people reading my blog, but today I’m questioning my beliefs because of a recent conversation I had with Mrs. Chatterbox, a conversation about race. As you might have heard, Steve King, a Republican congressman from Iowa famous for making controversial statements, was recently called a “racist” for suggesting that white people have contributed more to civilization than any other subgroup of people. A firestorm ensued. I find myself on an unfamiliar side of the fence—acknowledging that this conservative Republican was correct.


I’ve always been drawn to the notion that all people are equal citizens of this planet, and everyone should be entitled to the pursuit of happiness, permitted to benefit from their labor and abilities, but so far I must conclude this hasn’t been the case. The reasons for this are too many to list here. The question I asked Mrs. C. was whether or not something can be both true…and racist.


As a student of history, I must acknowledge the preeminence of whites. I’m assuming King was speaking of Western civilization since the Chinese culture was replete with incredible accomplishments at a time when most Europeans lived in mud huts. Of course there are reasons for white cultural dominance: the subjugation of populations through warfare, institutionalized slavery, economic suppression—these making for a playing field that is hardly level when it comes to cultural contributions.


History is written by winners, and most ethnic people haven’t found themselves on the winning side. Sure, research will show countless contributions to our civilization by minorities, but these are but a fraction of the achievements attributed to white people. Again, this is due to advantages historically afforded, unfairly, only to white people.


The same can be said of women, who many acknowledge haven’t contributed to civilization as much as men, even though women bring forth the lives that promulgate civilization. Research can provide instances where women have achieved or surpassed men in art, science, philosophy, literature and even leadership, yet the sentiment prevails that men have achieved far more than women, and unfortunately I also find this to be true. As an optimist, I hope the future will correct historical injustices by leveling the playing field so everyone, regardless of sex or ethnicity, can contribute to civilization equally.


Socrates is said to have commented that an unexamined life isn’t worth living, and so I’m asking myself if I’m a racist simply by acknowledging that, in this instance, King was right. Certainly his statement was politically incorrect, especially in our racially charged times, but can it be racist if it also happens to be true?     






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I do not think it's racist- it's reality. One just has to look at WHY to realize it might be true but that doesn't make it right.
By: Kathe W. on July 25, 2016
People don't have to like a reality for it to be true.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on July 25, 2016
Facts aren't racist. How they are used and/or created is another matter.
By: Uncle Skip on July 25, 2016
As the others said... maybe the comment was not racist and held some reality as it applies to Western civilization (as you pointed out) Various times of history have certainly subjugated people because of race or gender and not allowed them to participate at any level of power or control. I think Steve King's comment is an awfully broad stroke though. When using white people as the largest contributors to civilization he is ignoring (again as you pointed out) Asian, African, South American, Native American, etc. cultures going all the way back to prehistoric times. I would say whoever came up with fire, speech and even the wheel might have had a big hand in "contributing" to our civilization. Are we sure those folks were white? While his comment might not be racist, it's phrasing isn't the best example of sensitivity either.
By: Cheryl P. on July 25, 2016
If you are talking Western civilization only, your facts are correct, and are simply facts. Stating that this is how it should be would be racist, not just acknowledging the facts. Oh, and i consider every group of people to be civilized, as we all define civilized in our own way as set by our culture.
By: messymimi on July 25, 2016
I agree with messymimi!!
By: fishducky on July 25, 2016
I think you are just uneducated. Read The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and you will get a broader perspective on contributions to civilization.
By: Tabor on July 25, 2016
I did not assume that King referred to Western civilization. He generalized and did not back up his statement. As for your statement that "men have achieved far more than women," I disagree. Many of women's accomplishments have been ignored. I don't think most people know that the first published poet in the American colonies was a woman named Ann Bradstreet. Men have subjugated and dismissed women, yet many have prevailed, only to be ignored by history books. Perhaps you ignore the accomplishments of other ethnic groups. I do not think you are a racist, but in this instance, you are mistaken. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on July 25, 2016
In 42 years of journalism I've covered race since being assigned a 1965 sit in. It is my take that almost nothing can be said about race in America that will not be misunderstood, misinterpreted, spun or that will not offend someone. Too many people of all shades with predetermined attitudes that make honest expression and discussion a minefield. You have done a valiant job of threading your way through with an honest and sincere expression. It will be interesting to see how your correspondents and followers respond. I think all races are capable of being racist, even those who have been victimized. The point is when European Court Society encountered this continent where we reside racism, ethnocentrism and imperialism came with them. Racism is rooted in the founding of our Republic.
By: Tom Cochrun on July 25, 2016
This was a tough one Stephen. I didn't get the impression he meant Western Civilization either. But in that context, the playing field has never been level and all groups that weren't white men have been suppressed.
By: Arkansas Patti on July 25, 2016
The truth isn't always pretty, but it's still the truth. To alter the truth to make it more palatable defeats the purpose of history. History is to be learned from, and you can't learn if don't acknowledge what happened, for better or worse.
By: scott park on July 25, 2016
If I could come back in 100 years, and see how this question is answered, I'd be fascinated to see. I don't have an answer, nor do I think any of us do. History will judge how we did, and even that will change over the years and decades. I know my oldest daughter, in middle age, thinks I don't really understand the concept of 'white privileged' and I think she's right. at age 72, I doubt I will. It's my job to fade into the dustbin of history, in some way. Cheers, Mike
By: Mike M on July 25, 2016
This one is tricky. I think he's saying something that doesn't particularly apply to race. As you say the rules of the game are slanted. On a level playing field what would happen?
By: red Kline on July 25, 2016
I don't know what to say. What King said may be the truth...sort of like saying tall men have done more for basketball than short men. So maybe it's only racism when you try to BLAME the short men for not contributing more towards the sport of basketball. I dunno.
By: Pixel Peeper on July 25, 2016
I don't really have an answer. People can twist the truth seven ways to Sunday to make it fit their agenda. Truth is relative, I suppose.
By: Val on July 25, 2016
I was always taught that racism was hate toward a different race, not agreeing or disagreeing on an issue or truth. But everyone has it all so twisted. Lisa
By: LisA on July 25, 2016
It may turn out that his comment was racist if you take DNA research that shows that very few white people don't have a bit of black genes back in their ancestry. So, can there be any true white OR black people?
By: Catalyst on July 25, 2016
Whether or not the "fact" is racist may be different than his 'insight" being racist. I don't know how you can say that with Chinese history.
By: Sage on July 26, 2016
King's statement was a racist one, but it is true because of racism. And our Western World devalues the work of minority people, added to everything else you said. I have racist ideology from my upbringing and the greater cultures, and I continue to work on it. It's tough to admit that, but I think a lot of us progressives would say the same. But that doesn't make us racist; it makes us human.
By: Robyn Engel on July 26, 2016
Facts are not racist, opinions can be.
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 26, 2016
He is right and you're right for agreeing with him (oh boy, here come the letters). So you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with a Republican? If it will make you feel better, I sometimes agree with the Democrats. Either we're men of integrity. Or the world is turned upside down. lol
By: Al Penwasser on July 26, 2016
Everyone will have a different perception of his comment, and that's to be expected. Either way, I think this is a great post and a big YES to paragraph #5!!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on July 26, 2016
Acceptance of facts (if they are true) is not racist, using "facts" and "stats" and twisting them to assert superiority over a race religion or culture is racist.
By: cranky on July 27, 2016
You wrote very eloquently and i agree with you and i don't consider myself racist. It is just, unfortunately, true but only by the way you have said it. If we were all equal there would have been more diverse feats that would have happened. I have no idea if I am making any sense but I agree with you and do not consider you racist
By: Birgit on July 27, 2016

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