On April 28, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) gave a response to President Joe Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress. In the rebuttal, Scott recalled several stories of how racism has affected himself as a Black man living in the southern United States, but then went on to say that this racism was not systemic, with the assertion that “America is not a racist country.”
“Black people who succeed often walk on pins and needles, because they realize that their success and maintaining that success is precarious. Tim Scott being one of them.” —Dr. Rashawn Ray, Brookings Institution
Instead of rebutting Scott by pointing out the racism that is embedded in our systems and institutions in America, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have since made similar statements.
Listen: Dr. Rashawn Ray of Brookings talks about his essay “Is the United States a racist country?”
Dr. Rashawn Ray is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He wrote an essay about Scott’s claim called “Is the United States a racist country?”
“People have to understand this is not just Scott but also Vice President Harris and even President Biden, who was quite forceful in his congressional address about the role of systematic racism, then he rolled it back a bit a couple of days later,” says Ray. He says he believes this to be a recognition all three of them — Scott, Harris and Biden — need to appeal to people who view racism as an issue of individual action.
Ray says a response to these claims, that the United States is not racist, is to pose questions that reveal how racism is perpetuated at an institutional level. “Why did Black small businesses get smaller PPP funding?” he asks. ”Why is it that it is easier to buy a gun than to vote? Why is it that a white person with a criminal record is more likely to get a job than a Black person without a criminal record?”
Upward mobility, Ray says, does not mean there are no racist hurdles on the pathway to success. “Black people who succeed often walk on pins and needles, because they realize that their success and maintaining that success is precarious. Tim Scott being one of them.”