Carol Swain: What I Can Teach You About Racism

By  PragerU
Carol Swain

The latest PragerU video, brought to us by Carol Swain, retired Professor of Political Science and Law at Vanderbilt University and host of the Be the People Podcast, addresses the issues of victimhood culture and racial division in a very personal way.

Swain begins by telling us how her story ends: as “a tenured, award-winning professor of political science at an Ivy League university and then at one of the leading universities in the South.”

The retired professor then goes back to her inauspicious beginnings, explaining that she grew up “in rural Virginia literally dirt poor.” Dropping out of school in the eighth grade, Swain had three children by the time she was 20. Despite considering herself a reasonably modest person, she says, even she has to “admit that’s quite a journey.”

So, how did she work her way up to be an influential member of Vanderbilt’s law school and a national voice? “I worked hard,” she says. “Not crazy, 24/7 hard. Just hard. I made good decisions. Not brilliant, three-dimensional chess decisions. Just good ones.”

In addition, she “met people along the way who helped [her] and sincerely wanted to see [her] succeed, not because they had something to gain, but because they were decent people. “Almost all of these individuals,” she adds, “were white.”

“But mostly,” Swain says, “I think I was blessed in one crucial way”: she was born in America, “a true land of opportunity for anyone of any color or background,” a country in which “where you start your life does not determine where you end up.”

This works both ways, of course. In the United States, “you can start out with every advantage and waste them all, or start out with nothing and become a success.”

The difference in your life trajectory is heavily determined by your “attitude,” which she describes as “far more important than your race, gender, or social class in determining what you will accomplish in life.”

“When I hear young blacks, or anyone for that matter, talk about systemic racism,” Swain continues, “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I want to laugh because it’s such nonsense. I want to cry because I know it’s pushing untold numbers of young blacks into a dead end of self-pity and despair. Instead of seizing the amazing opportunities America offers them, they seize an excuse to explain why they’re not succeeding.”

Referencing her own story, Swain reminds viewers that she was “born into a world where systemic racism was real — no fooling, outright bigotry, back-of-the-bus real.”

“Yes, that racism shaped the black experience, but even then it did not define it,” she says. “Systemic reform” was in the air when the “modern civil rights movement was in its infancy, and the leaders who fought for equal rights for blacks were men and women of all races.”

“They believed in America,” Swain says, “and were determined to see it live up to its highest ideals — ideals manifest in the Declaration of Independence, and the US Constitution.”

Swain then moves on to address the commonly-raised issue that “George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.”

“I don’t think I ever thought about it,” Swain says. “If I did, I’d like to think that I would have had enough common sense to know that we can’t judge men who lived 250 years ago by the moral standards of our own day.”

Instead, Swain has focused on the fact that “Jefferson wrote the words in the Declaration of Independence that made slavery ultimately impossible; that all men are created equal.” Not only that, “Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, Adams and the rest of the Founders risked everything to make [her] world, [her] America, possible.”

“The truth is,” Swain says, “I cannot remember a time when I did not love America and feel pride in the belief that I live in the greatest country in the world.” She was confident that if she diligently pursued her ambitions, she could “leave the poverty of [her] early years, with all its abuse and depression, behind [her].”

Swain then demonstrates why her experience is so applicable for many who face the same problems, saying that she was “fortunate in another way,” having been “spared the life-sapping, negative messages about America that are crippling a generation of young people.”

The ideas young people are told to accept: “white privilege, whiteness as a form of property, unconscious racism, reparations, microaggressions, police have it out for blacks, that the United States was created to protect and promote slavery” are all poison, Swain says.

Making matters worse, these same young people are then “told to reject the ideas that can save them, the antidote: the success principles that enabled me and millions of other Americans to escape lives of poverty.”

“These principles aren’t complicated,” Swain argues. “Work hard, learn from your mistakes, take personal responsibility for your actions.”

When I made the decisions to get my high school equivalency, attend a community college, and then earn four additional college and university degrees,” Swain says, “I believed that my education would open doors. And it did.”

Swain ends with both a warning and an encouraging message for those following in her footsteps. 

“It was only when exposed to academic theories of oppression in graduate school that I was informed that because I was black, poor, and female, I could never do what I had already accomplished,” she explains. “Thank God, it was too late for these toxic messages to stop me. Don’t let them stop you.”

PragerU is the world’s leading educational nonprofit focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media. You can make a tax-deductible donation here to help PragerU continue to reach millions of young people with their videos.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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