Ennis Leon Jacobs, Jr.
The most advanced industrial democracy on the planet stands today in deep distress, critical societal divisions, political dysfunction, and severe economic challenges. In a society that champions individual and local states’ rights, average families and most local agencies are in deep despair. This discord appears to have revitalized the fervent seed which burns in soil of America – racial intolerance and oppression. That seed has produced disastrous fruit.
A recent poll by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that one in three Americans believe some derivation of the Great Replacement theory. This formerly extremist, right-wing proposition holds that immigrants and non-white citizens are engaged in a plot to displace the political power, the economic prominence, and the culture of white people in Western cultures. Apparently, it has moved to the mainstream of American psyche.
I do not ignore the political actors, the talking heads, and others who are advocating this theory, with varied motives, generally stoking fear and trepidation within society. However, they are not completely ignored – they are center stage in words from long ago; Psalms 94:1-15, and Isaiah 10:1-4.
Instead, the focus here goes to the dark bedroom of Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old young man who killed 10 people in a Buffalo, New York supermarket. Details of this young man, much from his own diary, suggest confusion about basic issues of history, and of race, and extreme vulnerability to rancid misinformation he found online. In dark isolation, he anchored his thoughts and beliefs to the Great Replacement theory, and to the underlying cultural, stereotypical and racial biases on which it relies. Growing up in a nearly all-white Conklin, NY, he lacked interracial and intercultural relationships and experiences that would counteract the extreme biases integral to the Great Replacement theory.
The unjust violence by some law enforcement, the Buffalo shootings, subsequent attacks on Asian Americans, as well as attacks on Jewish Americans, and others now frame a moment of reckoning for America. How substantial is the influence of extremism in American mainstream culture? Did this rabid extremism transform an impressionable Payton Gendron into someone oblivious to humanity, who demonized skin color or culture; Someone who wantonly dispersed untold trauma into many family genealogies without thought — so as to blindly uphold the sanctity of a “white” culture.
American society is not a mistake – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”. These words require a purposeful, intentional pursuit of human fairness – an inclusive, democratic society. Though an admittedly difficult task given America’s incredible diversity, true Americans embrace this ideal to establish a more perfect union of peoples. The Great Replacement theory, as well as other ambiguous whistles of racial, cultural and ethnic division, completely contradict this premise, and the American ideal.
For me, the best life is one mapped out by my creator, God. It necessarily entails a diverse, inclusive and unified community. I posit that most Americans seek genuine unity. We now must choose whether we truly believe the slogan placed on our currency because, it will take genuine trust in a supernatural power to achieve this unity in today’s contentious society. This is our call to action.
Last year, I wrote an opinion editorial titled “America’s True Critical Race Theory” in response to the political debate in Florida on this civic controversy. It told of an experience in high school in the 1970’s when, during a band trip, I and a classmate were ushered out of the home of a host student because of our race. I recalled that the host student seemed to welcome the idea of getting to know my friend and I of a different culture. But his family clearly disagreed.
The article struck a chord nationally and was referenced throughout the country. It is my deep prayer that the cultural, stereotypical and racial biases of families such as our long-ago host family have not persevered over generations to influence the culture wars of today. Sadly, the evidence suggests otherwise.
Ennis Leon Jacobs, Jr., is an attorney based in Tallahassee, Florida, a chairman emeritus of the Florida Public Service Commission, and former member of the Florida Elections Commission.