Racism in America and the fight between human spirit and human nature -By Chris Spatola

Filed under: Global Issues |



The American democratic conception of ethnic and racial diversity — you know, the whole “all men are created equal” thing, written by a group of white men, many of whom owned slaves — lost the fight to human nature long ago.

The eternal battle in politics is not ideological. Ideology is simply a framework that is often too complex and perhaps too utopian to effectively advance. The eternal battle in politics is between human nature and human spirit.

Human nature is divisive, it is Darwinian, it is iniquitous and more. Human nature drives the Hobbesian “war of all against all.”

The human spirit, on the other hand, yearns for unity, for community and for empathy, and is characterized by reason and tolerance. Human spirit is what binds us all in the Lockean social contract.

The bold — and yes, exceptional — ideal that a pluralistic society can flourish operates under the sole assumption that the human spirit will win out. Sustaining a society that transcends racial, ethnic, religious and sexual origins does not come naturally to us, nor does it have much historical success.

The United States was supposed to be the exception. Ignoring the irony and great hypocrisy that a slave-owning country drafted one of the most eloquent documents of inclusion in the history of man — the Declaration of Independence — the genius of that document, and of our Constitution, is the bold idea that a country that could tap into and govern by the human spirit would best stand the test of time. Meanwhile, the “city upon a hill” was meant to serve as a shining example to others who, in their ineptitude, couldn’t quite get it right, even having had several centuries to try.

The Confederate flag is a symbol of, at its best, a failed insurrection. At its most dissolute, the flag represents a white supremacist legacy that spans 153 years. For the majority of Americans, the sight of the Confederate flag conjures a history of racism and evil that reaches the depths of human nature’s depravity. The human spirit empathizes with black Americans who have suffered, or who have ancestors who have suffered, at the hands of people who used that flag as a rallying cry.

The only explanation for a politician who quibbles about the removal of the Confederate flag, who won’t publicly acknowledge what that flag represents, is that human nature has corrupted human spirit.

Elective politics have a way of corrupting absolutely, but our politicians all too often lack the courage required to advance the human spirit, the very fabric of our great American experiment, in their fight to remain relevant. In their desire to remain noncommittal in the lead-up to the Southern primaries, pandering to a small base that uses “heritage” and “ancestry” to mask bigotry — politicians like South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) have carefully crafted rhetoric designed to placate all sides. Here’s Haley last week:

For many people in our state the flag stands for traditions that are noble. Traditions of history, of heritage and of ancestry. … Those South Carolinians view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity and duty. They also see it as a memorial, a way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during time of conflict. That is not hate, nor is it racism.

That all men are created equal is the theoretical foundation of our government. In practice, we often fail to meet a literal execution of that theory. While a relatively small percentage of mostly Southerners see Confederate vestiges as “traditions that are noble,” a far greater number of Americans see those symbols as calcified relics perpetuating a separatist, tragic history. Issues of race in this country have, on a number of occasions, threatened to unwind our worthy experiment. Political hedging like Haley’s diminishes dialogue on an issue as deep, divisive and hurtful as the state-sponsored lionizing of Confederate history. Politicians who posit heritage and ancestry as reasons to celebrate these Confederate symbols lack not only courage, but also lack the human spirit necessary for our pluralistic society to survive.

The winds of social tolerance are shifting. The Supreme Court’s decision last week to legalize same-sex marriage is just one example. But when it comes to race issues in this country, most politicians have never been able to consistently access the human spirit, cowering instead to human nature.

Spatola is a West Point graduate and former captain in the U.S. Army. He currently serves as a college basketball analyst for CBS Sports and SiriusXM radio.