‘Institutional’ racism?

Despite comments by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden last week, racism is not an “institutional” aspect of life in the United States.

Racism does exist and we all would be better off without it. No form of bigotry, including the anti-Semitic comments made by a few members of Congress, should be accepted by Americans of all races, colors, creeds, faiths and national origins.

During an interview with reporters on Tuesday, the former vice president described racism as a “white man’s problem visited on people of color.” He added that, “White folks are the reason we have institutional racism.”

His use of the word “institutional” implies that racism is something widespread, accepted by most people, legal and even codified. But discrimination by race is illegal everywhere in the United States. The overwhelming majority of Americans have nothing but contempt for racists.

Biden told reporters Wednesday that if he is elected president, racism will “not be tolerated.” But bigots of all types have existed in our nation for generations. They have persisted even when the machinery of law enforcement — even the military — was mobilized in attempts to prevent violence grounded in prejudice.

Only we as a society — and that means we Americans as individuals — can be effective in battling racism. We must educate ourselves and others.

But we also must not get so worked up in our righteousness that we forget about the rights of even racists to think what they want to think, and to say what they want to say. Not that we have to agree with them, ever. But how Orwellian do we want to treat our fellow citizens? We do not need the thought police to combat racism.

The antidote for any thought or speech or idea that reasonable people find abhorrent is more free speech, not less.

This says nothing about racist violence, of course, which is illegal. As is any criminal violence.