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“Racism in America Is Endemic”: Democratic Candidates Vow to Confront White Supremacy & Legacy of Slavery

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Image Credit: ABC

During the third Democratic debate Thursday night, the discussion of race and racism got personal for former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, who brought up last month’s El Paso massacre. He said the white gunman who killed 22 people, mostly Latinos, had driven to the border city “to kill people who look like me.” Former Texas Congressmember Beto O’Rourke, who is from El Paso, said racism is endemic and foundational of the United States. He mentioned that this year will mark the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved African being brought to America, and promised he would create a slavery reparations commission.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask Rashad Robinson on the issue of race, which was discussed quite extensively at the debate, especially the moment that Beto O’Rourke really had one of the highlight moments of the debate. I wanted to go to when the moderator Linsey Davis asked Beto O’Rourke a question about race.

JULIÁN CASTRO: Look, a few weeks ago, a shooter drove 10 miles, inspired by this — 10 hours, inspired by this president, to kill people who look like me and people who look like my family. White supremacy is a growing threat to this country, and we have to root it out. I’m proud that I put forward a plan to disarm hate. I’m also proud that I was the first to put forward a police reform plan, because we’re not going to have any more Laquan McDonalds or Eric Garners or Michael Browns or Pamela Turners or Walter Scotts or Sandra Bland, here from the Houston area.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was a glitch there. That was Julián Castro speaking, not Beto O’Rourke. I think we’ve got Beto O’Rourke now.

BETO O’ROURKE: Racism in America is endemic. It is foundational. We can mark the creation of this country not at the Fourth of July, 1776, but August 20th, 1619, when the first kidnapped African was brought to this country against his will and in bondage, and, as a slave, built the greatness and the success and the wealth that neither he nor his descendants would ever be able to fully participate in and enjoy.

We have to be able to answer this challenge. And it is found in our education system, where in Texas a 5-year-old child in kindergarten is five times as likely to be disciplined or suspended or expelled based on the color of their skin; in our healthcare system, where there’s a maternal mortality crisis three times as deadly for women of color; or the fact that there’s 10 times the wealth in white America than there is in black America.

I’m going to follow Sheila Jackson Lee’s lead and sign into law a reparations bill that will allow us to address this at its foundations. But we will also call out the fact that we have a white supremacist in the White House, and he poses a mortal threat to people of color all across this country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Beto O’Rourke last night. Rashad Robinson, your reaction and the fact that we have several presidential candidates who are talking about reparations, first time really in memory, in a presidential race?

RASHAD ROBINSON: I mean, it really is incredible. And it is actually a result of movements, a result of, you know, the narrative change that’s been built. Narrative change is about the rules and norms of society, what people see is acceptable and what people can envision is possible. And on the main stage inside of a presidential debate, you have candidates talking about very clear policies that are going to impact the black community, but actually talking about the historical context of how we got here, talking about reparations, talking about slavery in very clear ways, using the term “white supremacist” on the national stage and talking about white supremacy and white nationalism. I mean, this is a fundamental change from the sort of rules, the unwritten rules, of these debates that used to exist, that you had to talk around race, or you couldn’t talk directly about race and be considered a kind of legitimate top-tier candidate. That is a result of how we’ve moved this country.

It’s also the result of, I think, a lot of people waking up to the failures of the left, at avoiding these conversations about race. Unfortunately, our opponents talk about race all the time — not in ways that we want them to, but they are talking about race all the time. And so, leaving this conversation to our opponents, pretending like we can talk about solving the ills that are deeply about structural racism without talking about race, is something that I’m so glad that so many candidates are speaking up about. And that Beto —

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to New Jersey —

RASHAD ROBINSON: And that Beto O’Rourke’s moment was just, I think, his finest moment of the night.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s go to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: And it’s nice to go all the way back to slavery, but, dear god, we have a criminal justice system that is so racially biased, we have more African Americans under criminal supervision today than all the slaves in 1850. We have to come at this issue attacking systemic racism, having the courage to call it out, and having a plan to do something about it.

If I am president of the United States, we will create an office in the White House to deal with the problem of white supremacy and hate crimes. And we will make sure that systemic racism is dealt with in substantive plans, from criminal justice reform to the disparities in healthcare, to even one that we don’t talk about enough, which is the racism that we see in environmental injustice in communities of color all around this country.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Julian Brave NoiseCat, if you can respond to what he said?

JULIAN BRAVE NOISECAT: I thought that Senator Booker bringing environmental injustice and racism into the conversation was a major moment for the environmental movement, broadly speaking, in this country. It really stuck out to me. You know, there has been a long history of people of color fighting the disproportionate siting of waste sites, pipelines and hazardous materials in our communities. It’s ongoing. It’s deeply rooted in Houston. And the fact that the senator brought that into the conversation last night was, I would say, a mark of success for the communities of color that have been fighting these issues.

I just thought it was too bad that, actually, the broader issues of environmental degradation and climate change didn’t get more attention than they deserved, in Houston, of course, the center of the fossil fuel-based economy, a place where, as you noted in the lede to the show, you know, protesters were blocking oil tankers into the port. So I thought that that was a great moment, but one wherein we could have had more conversation about these very important issues, in a place where they really need to happen.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, last night’s debate, as we mentioned, was held at Texas Southern University in Houston. Let’s go to California Senator Kamala Harris.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: I also want to talk about where we are, here at TSU, and what it means in terms of HBCUs. I have, as part of my proposal, that we will put $2 trillion into investing in our HBCUs for teachers, because — because — because, one, as a proud graduate of a historically black college and university, I will say — I will say that it is our HBCUs that disproportionately produce teachers and those who serve in these many professions. But also —

LINSEY DAVIS: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: But this is a critical point: If a black child has a black teacher before the end of third grade, they are 13% more likely to go to college. If that child has had two black teachers before the end of third grade, they are 32% more likely to go to college. So, when we talk about investing in our public education system, it is at the source of so much, when we fix it, that will fix so many other things.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Senator Kamala Harris. Of course, she was referring — she was a graduate of Howard University. I wanted to ask, again, Rashad Robinson, your response to her remarks?

RASHAD ROBINSON: I mean, I think that, once again, this is — this is a recognition of the type of culture change that we are having in this country, where these candidates recognize that they have to come with deep narratives about how they’re going to deal with race, but actually clear and specific policies. And that is incredibly important.

And, you know, her recognition of the role that public education has played in the advancement of black folks in the closing of racial gaps in this country is incredibly important. And also, I think that we just need to hear more, from all these candidates, specifically on education. Since 1980 in this country, the geographic segregation in our country, the way that public education has dealt with — we are in positions where we are going back to before Brown v. the Board of Education. And that type of segregation in our schools has directly aligned with the type of funding. And so, I am glad that we are talking about what type of investments are going to be made in schools that serve students of color, black students, Latino students, immigrants. I think it’s incredibly important.

And once again, this is not just a question of the what, but this is a question of the how, because the reason why schools have been privatized in cities around this country, the reason why we have underinvestment in our schools, is because corporate profiteers have been able to move the resources that are public into private hands of hedge fund managers and so many others, using attacks on teachers, using attacks on parents and communities, as a vehicle to do this. So, absolutely, we need investment. I believe in these proposals. But how are we going to deal with all of the incentive structures that have been put in place that are making money off the current system, that have to be broken in order for us to achieve the type of success and goals that these policies claim that they’re going to give us?

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