Zachary Klein

zachYesterday was Father’s Day and I enjoyed talking to my kids and getting their good wishes. But somewhere along the way I realized that I’m lucky. Jake and Matt are adults and able to understand the racism that exists in our country. I don’t need to sit them down and try to explain the underlying causes that produce nine slain Blacks at their own church. And my grandchildren are too young to understand much of anything since they’re 7½ months old, so Matt and Alyssa won’t be doing any explaining for a while.

But what about the parents who must try to make some sense out of this one and the other countless tragedies that routinely occur to Black people every day of the week in this country?

Me, I go crazy trying to think of solutions to this curse. It’s impossible to outlaw hate so the haters keep hating and passing it down to their offspring. So I desperately imagine redesigning our states in ways that allow people who believe in integration to actually live in integrated communities. Where parents send their kids to schools that look like that old Coke commercial. Where the police don’t predictably shoot teenagers because of color.

A dream and not even a satisfactory one. This idea also creates states where people could simply live with their own kind. Would we call ourselves the United Reservations of America?

So let’s pretend that the vast majority of our population really wants an end to racism and everything it represents. What’s to do?

I suppose we can just limp along from one murder to another and accept that nothing of import will change. But I’m not built that way. I can’t sit idly by and watch the disintegration of my society without at least considering some alternatives to the status quo.

I’d start by demanding that all presidential hopefuls begin talking about the 46.5 million people who live in poverty with almost half of them children. Worse, 20.4 million people, were living in deep poverty which means they were living 50% below the poverty line that our government has established. Compared to non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics are more than twice as likely to live in deep poverty, and Blacks are almost three times more likely to live in deep poverty.

Now take a look at more numbers for minorities: Among racial and ethnic groups, Blacks had the highest poverty rate at 27.4 percent, followed by Hispanics at 26.6 percent and Whites at 9.9 percent. (These numbers come from the 2013 census and I don’t believe it’s gotten any better.)

It’s damn hard to enjoy Father’s Day when so many kids (and their parents), are suffering in a land of plenty.

And even many of our best hopes aren’t talking the talk. I know Bernie Sanders, and a couple of other candidates have spoken some about this issue, but almost always under the rubric of the middle class. Always the middle class and “working people.” Of course we should redistribute wealth to help solidify both those groups, but I want to hear politicians speak about poverty. To take the issue head on and tell us their plans to eradicate it. As some before me, (Martin Luther King to name one) I too believe that it’s impossible to untangle poverty from racism—though there are more facets to racism than just hunger and hopelessness.

White America has always found a way to oppress then blame our victims. And within our boundaries victims are almost always minorities. We’ve done it historically, socially, and culturally so hard and for so long throughout our country’s entire history that it’s become a disease. I’m not talking about an emotional or cultural disease, but one that’s invaded the very being of White people.

This isn’t a metaphor but something I believe to be literally true. Epigenetics, (the study of the process by which genetic information is translated into the substance and behavior of an organism: specifically, the study of the way in which the expression of heritable traits is modified by environmental influences or other mechanisms without a change to the DNA sequence), probably explains an important underlying cause of our racism. In other words, who we are is a combination of our genes and the way the environment affects the expression of those genes. We are racially sick.

We are racist because we have swallowed our own myths about Black people so thoroughly they’ve become part of who we are—right down next to to our genes. We are racially sick.

I’m aware this also works the other way around: minorities have become infused with how their environment impacts them. But frankly, racism is a White peoples’ disease and, if we really want to get rid of our malady, our focus has to be on ourselves and all the institutions we as Whites have created. Until and unless we eradicate poverty and root out our own disease and the unhealthy racist institutions we have created—oppression and violence and blame the victim—will never end.

Difficult for a father to explain to his kids on Father’s Day. That all us White folks have an illness called racism, virtually all our institutions reflect this illness, and since I brought you into this world, you kids have it too. And it’s probably gonna take the rest of your lives, and beyond, to cure it if we, as a people, even bother to try.

And try we must because if we don’t confront our sickness we will forever be locked in a society that will continue to breed separate and unequal. Now that’s a tough tale to tell on Father’s Day.