U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, during a discussion on Black voices in politics, maintained there’s no longer systemic racism in America.
“We are now two generations from the Civil Rights Act passing. Two generations away in America,” the Naples Republican said. “I will largely tell you that if you are a Black or Brown child in America, your opportunities for success today are significantly higher than they were two generations ago. That’s beyond question.”
Donalds, one of two Black Republicans serving in the U.S. House, spoke at the first in a series of panels organized by POLITICO on race in politics. His participation came weeks after he told the political outlet that while racism permeated the American justice system a century ago, it doesn’t persist today.
At the Wednesday morning panel, Donalds expounded. He made clear prejudice on an individual level still impacts Black Americans. But he also said it’s more important to remove bureaucratic barriers to advancement, and said there’s no longer intentional forces at play within government limiting freedoms based on race.
“The question is, do those biases create this construct that the country itself has massive systemic racism where we cannot move forward together as people,” he said. “I think that line of thinking, it can be very destructive for the country.”
Other minority advocates serving on the panel pushed back at the assertion.
Malika Redmond, co-founder and CEO of Women Engaged, said when you survey young Black voters about their top issues they face, the No. 1 issue remains “racism and violence against their bodies.”
“Yes, we can talk levels of progress, but some of these issues don’t really change much,” she said.
Similarly, Redmond said continued attacks on voting access in minority communities feel hauntingly similar to efforts to suppress Black voters in past generations. And of course, many of the Baby Boomers who now serve as senior voices in government today lived through and still vividly recall those eras.
Lauren Williams, co-founder and editor-in-chief of media outlet Capital B, suggested comparing the rights of Black Americans to two generations ago sets a low bar.
“I agree that is not where we are and there have been incredible improvements in our lives,” she said.
Both sides agree on the principles of equality now, she said, and in an America where opportunities for success should be as open to Black Americans as White ones. But that’s why political leaders must take this moment to explore why inequities persist regardless.
Donalds pushed back on suggestions about voting rights reforms implemented, including ones just signed into law in Florida. A lawsuit has already been filed against Florida’s law calling for the return of Justice Department pre-clearance to make sure election law reforms don’t hurt Black Americans in communities.
Donalds lives in Collier County, one of five Florida counties that used to fall under pre-clearance requirements before a 2013 Supreme Court decision dropped that automatic requirement. Donalds said voter turnout among minorities in that county, and other pre-clearance jurisdictions as whole, are now higher than turnout rates overall.
But the Congressman still welcomed discussion about race in U.S. society and said this marked a critical moment in America’s history. Conversations grew louder in 2020 after the George Floyd murder by a Minneapolis police officer and after Black Lives Matter protests dominated headlines all last summer.
“The last 10 to 20 years, there was always this push of, we have to have a conversation about race. Well, guess what? We’re having one. And it’s really happening in all sections or our country,” Donalds said. “Part of that is actually quite promising. I think it’s going to come to a positive thing for our country. There are parts of it that are very, very concerning. We have to understand and look at our history in full context.”