Sublime ideals gave birth to our country. The greatest accomplishment of the Enlightenment was the concept — earth-shattering at the time — of freedom of religion. It is an idea enshrined in our Constitution.
Yet no amount of inarguable greatness has been able to exorcise our history and current culture from the nightmarish hauntings of racism. Why?
The hideous revelation of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s Medical School Year Book (showing someone in Blackface and another in a KKK robe and hood) and his sinister defiance provide valuable clues.
Racism is apolitical by nature. It emerges before the human psyche develops coherent political opinions. Politics or ideology cannot inspire racism but they can use it, inflame it and, sadly, justify it.
Some people can hide behind the convenient facades of nationalism, anti-Israel principles or other versions but their attempts remain utterly unpersuasive and the racism or Anti-Semitism transparent. There is no political solution to racism since it is, in essence, not a political problem but an ugly stain on some practitioners of politics, among many others.
As first reported by CBS News, just before the sordid Year Book affair, Virginia’s Governor received national media attention for defending a blatant form of eugenics — namely the interruption, during labor, of the delivery of a viable infant if he or she does not presumably qualify in Northam’s mind as being worthy of living. The word he uses is “deformities.” Pointedly, for a century, Down syndrome was known as Mongolism with all the clear racial implications.
Eugenics — or improving the gene pool by selective breeding — has long been a source of fascination for racists.
On June, 26 2000, Bill Clinton marked the completion of the monumental Human Genome Project with the very memorable East Room, “The Language of God” speech. He eloquently described human life as: “the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift.”
Racism holds nothing sacred.
In his 1871 transformative masterpiece “The Descent of Man”, the incomparable Charles Darwin wrote the following: “It may be doubted whether any character can be named which is distinctive of a race and is constant.” It was a stunning, counter-cultural insight that caused almost as much dismay as his Theory of Evolution.
Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton was a progressive, immensely influential scientist, who spent his entire career trying to prove the insight wrong. He believed passionately that his research would demonstrate scientifically the correctness of his horrific prejudices and illusions of racial superiority. His dazzling brilliance gave him considerable credibility as the recognized “father” of Eugenics.
One of his most enthusiastic disciples, Marie Stopes, also an accomplished British scientist and effective Women Rights activist, campaigned energetically for the mass sterilization of the Irish poor. She still commends a surprising degree of respect in some circles in spite of her sickening letter of adolescent-like infatuation to a strange fellow by the name of Adolph Hitler. He, of course, dragged the concept to a supremely sadistic and systematic abyss and forever tied eugenics to racism.
It is a flagrant and stubborn myth that racism is caused by lack of education. Historically, it has been tolerated even embraced by Politicians, Academics and, indeed, by religious leaders if made palatable by figures of sophisticated intelligence and with whom one shares common objectives.
The subtle but powerfully satisfying irony of Nature is that the science of genetics has proven Darwin right and Galton, Stopes and their numerous devotees pathetically wrong.
In his superb “A Brief History of Everyone who ever Lived”, British geneticist Adam Rutherford writes: “I am comfortable stating that from the point of view of a geneticist, race does not exist. It has no useful scientific value.” And: “That a Namibian and a Nigerian have a more similar skin color than either do to a Swede masks the fact that the majority of their genes are more dissimilar to each other that they are to that same Swede.”
In our Church Congregation, we are very blessed to have some African students, East Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans etc. They are much loved. It is a profoundly comforting reality to me that in spite of skin, hair and facial appearances, I am genetically much closer to some of them that to some of my other parishioners who look much more like me.
Politics has been, in the best possible scenario, highly ineffective in addressing the persistence of racism and, at worst, responsible for cultivating it. Now, genetics has forever destroyed the terrifyingly harmful fallacy of it all.
We now have an ethical imperative and a uniquely redeeming opportunity. Truth “sets us free” and empowers us to heal racial wounds and solemnly free this nation from the evil spell.