By Alan Dershowitz
The welcome adoption of Juneteenth as a national holiday celebrating the end of slavery proves what should have been obvious for at least a generation — namely, that we are no longer a systemically racist nation. To the contrary, we have become a systemically anti-racist nation, albeit with far too many pockets of residual racism, particularly in certain areas of life. But our essential systems — our laws, politics, media, education, religion, corporations — have all become discernibly anti-racist, in every meaningful sense of that term.
By “systemically” racist and anti-racist I mean to describe how these important instruments of governance impact on the role of race in America today. A comparison with the not-so-distant past will make my point.
When I was born in 1938, the United States was systemically racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Catholic, anti-Asian, anti-Hispanic and antisemitic.
The second half of the past century, following World War II, saw major changes in law, practice and attitudes.
We have seen the end of lawful segregation as well as the election of Catholic and Black presidents and vice presidents. For generations, the Supreme Court was comprised entirely of white Protestants. Then a handful of Catholics were appointed, and a “Jewish seat” was established, but it remained a dominantly white Protestant male institution. Now it has five Catholics, three Jews, three women, one African American, one Latina and one white Protestant. Jews, women and Blacks have become presidents of many major universities. Neighborhoods can no longer be “restricted.” Corporations, law firms, businesses and most private clubs are not allowed to discriminate. All sports leagues are integrated. Many groups that were previously discriminated against have members in Congress, in state legislatures and in other elected or appointed offices. Most universities and many other institutions have race-based affirmative action programs.
We have a long way to go in eliminating the residues of bigotry from our institutions — some, such as law enforcement, more than others. But compared to 1960, it is difficult to conclude that the racism that remains in this country — and it is still considerable, especially in some areas — can be fairly categorized as “systemic.”
So, no, we are not the systemically and top-down racist country we once were. We have become a systemically top-down anti-racist country with far too much bottom-up racism that we must end, especially in some important areas like law enforcement. But let’s not deny the real progress we have made as we celebrate our newest national holiday.
The US needs to be given credit for these changes. Otherwise, people will, with good reason, decide it’s not worth the effort to make any further improvements, or to prevent any backsliding.
And if people insist on dividing the population into tribes, the largest tribe in the country may decide it can play that game too.