Shortly after Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) finished her cool-down exercises after forcing the former Pinky to Barack Obama’s Brain into submission with a Rear Naked Chokehold before a live television audience, she sat down with chronic interrupter and MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews to explain how she acquired the can of whoop-ass she opened and poured over former Vice President Joe Biden during Thursday’s Democratic debate.
During the interview, which focused on how Harris dealt with segregation, systematic inequality and the experience of having her white friends’ parents shun her because of her race, Matthews posed the most revealing question of the night:
“This is really important to people of all background and ethnicities—I don’t like the word ‘race,’” Matthews began. “How did you come out of that and not have hate toward white people generally?”
Flabbergasted at first, Harris quickly gathered herself and informed Matthews that “most Americans do not conduct themselves that way,” before explaining that one experience doesn’t necessitate hate.
“But we cannot deny that there are too many children...black children in America, who have had that experience,” said Harris. “Children of color who have had that experience...be they Latino, Asian or black. That happens in America.”
Although Matthews doesn’t seem to understand that there is a distinct difference between “race” and “ethnicity” (Irish, Jewish, and even many Hispanic people belong to the racial group we call “white people,” even though they all have different ethnicities), his question exposed a revealing fact about a default way of thinking that is unfathomable to white America:
Racism is a choice.
There are xenophobia and bigotry in every society that has ever existed. But racial intolerance, hate, and prejudice, as they exist in America, are not the result of long-held grievances. They are an intergenerational inheritance preserved and packaged by parents and passed down to their heirs. There are children who renounce the legacy of racism, just as there are some who reject the religion, morals and abuse of their forebears.
Matthews’ question wasn’t offensive or even demeaning, it was enlightening in its audacious presumption that hate is a perfectly reasonable response to oppression. The revelatory part of Matthews’ question is that he apparently believes racism is a default inevitability unless someone as smart and accomplished as Harris could somehow devise a way to elude the inescapable hate monster that resides within us all.
He wanted to know “how.”
And that, dear reader, is all you need to know. It explains the children in concentration camps. It clarifies why there is a Muslim ban. It reveals why parents don’t want black children in their precious schools or neighborhoods. It’s why “economic anxiety” exists. It explains the fear behind the myth of “white genocide.” The whole of America’s resistance to equality can be summed up in that one word:
Because, if white supremacy is ever dismantled, they fully expect us to treat them the same way they have treated us. And they don’t want to be caged in poor neighborhoods. They don’t want the criminal justice system to target them. They don’t want their children to have inferior educations. They know they couldn’t survive the lynching, the torture, the longer jail sentences, the abuse, the unemployment, silencing or the subhuman treatment that they have given to non-white America since this country became the land of the free and the home of the brave.
That is what they believe will happen to them.
But what they all fail to understand is this:
We are not like them.
For Chris Matthews and white America, that is incomprehensible. And they desperately want to know how Kamala Harris and so many black people who waded through racism, came out the other side and continued to flourish, did it. Kamala Harris did not explain it in her interview but, luckily, there is an answer to the question.
She chose humanity.
Correction: 6/28/19, 3:03 p.m.: This story originally misstated Chris Matthews last name and has been edited to correct it.