When Senator Tim Scott was chosen to give the Republican response to President Biden’s address before Congress, many wondered if race would play a role in his address. Sure enough, it’s this passage that is being talked about the most today:
“From colleges to corporations to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress. By doubling down on the divisions we’ve worked so hard to heal.
You know this stuff is wrong. Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country.
It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different discrimination. And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”
Twitter erupted instantly with backlash. Reverend Jesse Jackson wrote, “The Rs putting Scott behind Biden tonight was disgraceful & embarrassing. Rs applaud Scott & boo Colin Powell. It’s the cruelest manipulation of a politician I’ve seen. Scott’s logic was weak & sick. Again, Rs try to make Clarence Thomas & Thurgood Marshall interchangeable.”
Hypocrisy was also a common theme.
Vice President Kamala Harris was asked about Scott’s remarks today on ABC News and while she said, “I don’t think America is a racist country.” She didn’t seem to agree with the framing of Scott’s argument. She said:
“We also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today.. We want to unify the country, but not without speaking truth and requiring accountability, as appropriate.”
Washington Post correspondent Philip Bump wrote, “Scott’s rhetoric was focused on a straw man.”
During the past 60 years, much of the open, individual, explicit racism in the United States has been rooted out. Nearly all of the obvious systemic racism has been, too: no more segregated lunch counters or bathrooms. The debate, then, is over the pervasiveness of non-obvious racism within systems. On that point, the parties are increasingly in disagreement.
Many commentators say Scott could have used his speech to help push issues involving race instead of acting like it doesn’t exist.
Washington Post opinion writer Eugene Robinson summed it up this way:
I won’t insult Scott’s intelligence by suggesting that he’s being cynically used by his party. But I assume he must know the truth that Harris speaks: We’ll never solve the problem of racism in this country until we fully acknowledge it.
Yet he offers soothing words to GOP voters who want to believe that racial discrimination is a thing of the distant past and that systemic racism does not even exist. When he says “America is not a racist country” he’s telling his audience — the Republican base — what it wants to hear. Not what it needs to hear.