A Letter to White America: By Dr. Rosalyn Broussard, Professor Emerita of Political Science


Dr. Broussard, a retired political science professor at UW-Platteville, wrote this letter recently and has submitted to share this edited and retitled version with Exponent readers.

“As I lay in my bed on May 29, I could feel my heart breaking. As I watched the video of that police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck in broad day light while being taped and not giving a care; it took me back to my childhood in the 1960s growing up in the apartheid South, where I often watched acts of police violence against peaceful Civil Rights protesters on the national news. It’s not just about George Floyd. It’s not just about Breonna Taylor. It’s not just about Eric Garner, or Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice or so many others. These are only some of the people who were unjustly killed, and their killers roam free. But even then, it is barely the tip of the iceberg. For every one of these unjust, untimely dead, there are thousands who feel the sting of racism and walk this earth wounded for the rest of their lives.
This hate by White people of minorities that was introduced by Britain and perpetuated by the American government has got to stop! The wounds of this county must heal or eventually we will all perish. However, the healing process will never take place without the truth. For far too long both political parties have used Black and Brown people as pawns to win over parts of the White vote: the Democrats, from the end of the Civil War to the signing of the civil rights acts; the Republicans from the late 1960s until the present. The Democrats were able to stir up White resentment by convincing working-class Whites that not only would they lose their jobs to Black men, they would lose their government and way of life and, most importantly, Black men left unchecked would lead to the rape of White women. Therefore, Black men were criminalized and defined as a danger to society, especially to White womanhood. This redefinition allowed for the brutal assaults on Black Americans that started during slavery and continued on, especially on Black men. The killing of Black men became justifiable and the God given right of Christian White men.
When the Democrats started to recognize and expand civil rights to all citizens, the Republican party stepped in to protect White supremacy. They adopted the Southern Strategy, which would deliver the White Southern vote. The Republican party, just like the Democrats before them, played on White racist attitudes, anger and resentment. They convinced most Southern Whites that the Democratic party was no longer protecting their interest (White supremacy), and programs such as Affirmative Action would benefit minorities while disadvantaging them. However, the truth is that the biggest direct benefactors of Affirmative Action are middle class White women, which would make middle class White men the biggest indirect benefactors of Affirmative Action. In addition, the first affirmative action program (GI Bill of Rights) created the middle class by giving WWII White veterans a hand up through education, housing and unemployment for a year, while denying these benefits to many minority WWII veterans.
It is time for Americans to understand the structural history of racism that has led us to this moment. However, if most White Americans focus on the personality of one person as the cause of America’s ills, the wounds of this country will never heal. For instance, while many of President Trump’s actions can be defined as despicable and racist, which includes his handling of George Floyd’s murder, he is not the real problem; he is a symptom of America’s four hundred plus years of institutionalized racism. Trump isn’t any more racist than Ronald Reagan; however, most White people praise Reagan. Trump went to Tulsa Oklahoma and Reagan went to Neshoba County Fair outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were slain in 1964.
If White Americans were willing to take a good look at both Trump’s actions and the American government’s actions just since WWII, the similarities would be clear. Many Democrats and a few Republicans have argued that Trump lacks integrity, moral values and shame: America lacks integrity, moral values and shame. Tell me, how can a country with integrity, moral values and a sense of shame, a country that literally saved Europe from the Nazis during World War II, behave immorally and inhumanely toward its own minority citizens? How does a country that set up the United Nations and vowed that such an atrocity as the Holocaust would never happen again; how does a country that co-authored the Universal Declarations of Rights and promoted human rights around the world, at the same time refuse to extend those same rights to its Black, Brown, Red and Yellow citizens?
When I was a young Black girl growing up in a segregated South while being denied basic human rights, while learning about WWII in school, I could not distinguish between my government’s actions and Hitler’s. I used to ask myself, “If Hitler is evil for what he did to the Jews, then why is it okay for my government to treat me less than a human being? Is my life less valuable than Ann Franks’ life, because her skin was White and mine is Black?” It is unconscionable that American citizens had to fight and die for constitutionally protected rights after WWII, especially when they had fought and died to secure those rights for other people in a foreign land. I would argue that, on some level, this makes my government’s behavior and actions worse than Hitler’s Germany.
The concept of “us-against-them” politics and tapping into White resentment is nothing new in America, although Donald Trump is more blatant than most politicians. It is time for White Americans to stop being surprised by Trump’s behavior. Trump is America on steroids and, personally, I am surprised that you are surprised. It’s time to stop being surprised and start speaking truth to power, because as long as you attack Donald Trump as the problem, this country will never heal.
If we as a country don’t start taking steps to heal the wounds of the past, I can guarantee you that there will be more Trumps, each worse than the one before. Russia’s interference in an election will be a small matter, because we are going to destroy ourselves from the inside out. No country can destroy a segment of its population without eventually destroying itself, no more than a runner can expect to win a race if they slam their foot in a door. As many before me have asked, what does it mean to be human? Can you treat me less than human and still maintain your humanity?
It is time to ask ourselves who we are: not the made-up ideal that White America has created for itself, but who are we really? Now is the time to start doing the work to make that ideal of who America pretends to be a reality.
In closing I have included two books, “Dog Whistle Politics: How Racism has Destroyed the White Middle Class” and “Just Mercy”; and an article I wrote for the Platteville Journal a few years ago that they refused to print. No, I was not surprised. If you only have time to read one book, please read “Dog Whistle Politics”. And one more thing, besides racism and big business, I don’t know what the National Republican Party stands for, and that was my belief long before Donald Trump became president. If my belief is wrong, please tell me why.”
Dr. Rosalyn S Broussard