No, White Liberals of America, Russia Didn’t Make Us UnjustPhoto courtesy of Getty Politics Features Russia
In the opinion business, these features so seldom write themselves. Except, occasionally, they do. According to the Times:
The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of activity on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its posts on Facebook, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The Times elaborated: African-American voters were one of several groups targeted by Russian hackers. These campaigns included ads, elaborate ecosystems of fake information, and developments along the meme front. To the credit of the report-writers, one of the authors, Renee DiResta, said:
the Internet Research Agency “leveraged pre-existing, legitimate grievances wherever they could.” … “Very real racial tensions and feelings of alienation exist in America, and have for decades,” Ms. DiResta said. “The I.R.A. didn’t create them. It exploits them.”
Amy Siskind, a Trump critic, former Wall Street executive, and Palin supporter, didn’t get the memo. She tweeted the following:
So now the question becomes: how did Russia know to target African American voters, and especially in certain key states. I think we’ll get our answers in the coming months from the Mueller probe. https://t.co/J85YRZWGwZ
— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) December 17, 2018
This is, frankly, an unbelievable response. There were several apt replies. But the one that straightaway got the heart of the matter went like this:
Breaking: mueller probe discovers evidence of forced migration, slavery, segregation and intimidation dating back 100s of years!
— atschwitters (@atschwitters) December 17, 2018
I don’t have an elaborate argument to make here, or an advanced philosophical rationale to suggest. I want to make a series of obvious points, and make them in a very plain style. These are statements so inarguable, that they will sound banal. That doesn’t stop them from being true.
Trump and Putin are criminals. Criminals alone do not invent oppression. They merely profit from it. People of color had every right to be dissatisfied with America in 2016—and in 2017, and in 2018.
I understand how symbolically important the Russia hacking is. In the Trump era, we are all looking for something normal to hold onto. Living in this age can be disorienting; you can feel the ground shifting beneath your feet.
If you believed this country was a fair place before 2016, then the election of Donald Trump makes no sense. It continues to make no sense. If that’s what you think, then Russia is a godsend. Nobody doubts that Russia interfered in our election. What we are arguing about is the amount of influence they had on our election.
The story goes like this: if Putin had not stirred up Midwestern voters, if Putin had not created tensions between blocs of Americans, if Putin had not encouraged divisions in the body politic…well, then: Trump would never have been elected. Under this argument, all we really have to do is expel Putin, and everything will go back to how it was.
In other words, we’ve been operating on the assumption that Russiagate folds all hands. Not only will it bring down Trump—and we hope it will—but that it will solve the problems that led to Trump. Some people online genuinely believe that once we’ve dug deep enough, the world will reset to 2016.
Except it won’t. Under Trump, the United States is a more dangerous and unjust place. But he encouraged what was already there. Comforting as it might be to a certain type of liberal, we can’t pretend Russia created injustice in America.
Don’t take my word for it. In 2016, according to a Guardian headline, “Young black men again faced highest rate of US police killings.” The article reads:
Black males aged 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers last year, according to data collected for The Counted, an effort by the Guardian to record every such death. They were also killed at four times the rate of young white men.
Go down the list. This argument is not hard to make. Pick any part of American life. “The black unemployment rate is nearly or more than twice the white unemployment rate regardless of educational attainment,” wrote Valerie Wilson in 2015. “It is, and always has been, about twice the white unemployment rate; however, the depth of this racial inequality in the labor market rarely makes the headlines.”
Prisons? According to the NAACP, African-Americans get incarcerated at a rate five times that of whites. African-American women are twice as likely to be imprisoned then white women.
How about the water and the air? Let’s quote NPR: “This is a particular problem in the African-American community, since blacks are five times more likely to be poisoned by lead.” According to Mother Jones, as a whole, people of color “are exposed to 46 percent more NO2 than white people.” Which might explain why, according to health authorities, “About 13.4 percent of African-American children have asthma.” African-American children die of asthma deaths at six times the rate of Hispanic or white children.
Schools? An Atlantic article details how African-American schools are systematically underfunded. Voting? Three years before the election, the Roberts Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, which really encouraged new forms of voter suppression. We saw the results of that during the Kemp-Abrams race in Georgia. Business? According to Forbes, in 2016:
…the Center for Global Policy Solutions reported that due to discriminatory financing practices and a bias towards companies primarily operated by white males, America is losing out on over 1.1 million minority-owned businesses, and as a result, foregoing over 9 million potential jobs and $300 billion in collective national income.
There is a marked wage inequality between African-Americans and white Americans. That gap is larger than it was in 1979. The Economic Policy Institute tells us this is true even for college graduates:
For example, just completing a bachelor’s degree or more will not reduce the black-white wage gap. Indeed the gaps have expanded most for college graduates. Black male college graduates (both those with just a college degree and those who have gone beyond college) newly entering the workforce started the 1980s with less than a 10 percent disadvantage relative to white college graduates but by 2014 similarly educated new entrants were at a roughly 18 percent deficit.
Forgive me if you knew all that, but sometimes our rhetorical willingness to admit racism gets in the way of documenting our actual, irrefutable, concrete, and ongoing racism. We speak righteous words, but we do not choose righteous deeds.
We do ourselves no credit, and we do no honor to our country, or the truth, to pretend that Russia created America’s injustice. To quote the television title, This Is Us. The moral arc of the universe only bends when we choose to bend it, and that requires honesty. This is our problem. Putin cannot divide us. We did that. And we must fix it.