In honor of Martin Luther King Day, Just Security is on a reduced schedule. We will address any major news development today, and will return at full steam tomorrow.
In the meantime as we reflect today on Dr. King’s life’s work and legacy, we recommend reading a particular text about racial justice and national security. We discuss Russian interference in American democracy here at Just Security a great amount. Recent empirical studies demonstrate how an online Russian operation has exploited American racism to stoke divisions in our society in general and suppress voter turnout in particular. We recommend reading a piece in the Washington Post, written in the wake of the most recent studies, by Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Under the title, “It’s Time to Face the Facts: Racism Is a National Security Issue,” an excerpt follows:
[W]e have to accept that foreign powers seize upon these divisions because they are real — because racism remains the United States’ Achilles’ heel. Indeed, it is, and always has been, a national security vulnerability — a fundamental and easily exploitable reality of American life that belies the image and narrative of equality and justice we project and export around the world. It may be especially difficult in our era of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” but we must recognize that our failure to acknowledge hard truths, especially when it comes to race, makes it easier for foreign powers to turn us against one another. Russia did not conjure out of thin air the black community’s legitimate grievances about racist policing. Nor did it invent racist and hateful conspiracy theories. Rather, Russian trolls seized upon these real problems as ready-made sources of discord. Moving forward, we need to recognize that our failure to honestly address issues of civil rights and racial justice makes all of us more susceptible to foreign interference.
This is hardly the first time our adversaries have identified race and racism as America’s great vulnerability. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union frequently pointed to segregation and civil unrest as proof of American hypocrisy. This propaganda was sufficiently widespread, and contained enough truth, that leaders of both parties began arguing that segregation undermined the United States’ position in the Cold War, helping to ease the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s.
But we must be careful not to reduce the struggle for racial equality into a bloodless question of national interest. Civil rights are essential to our national security, but national security cannot be the chief rationale for pursuing civil rights. After all, racial injustice is not just another chink in our armor. It is the great flaw in our character. Our adversaries know that race makes us our own worst enemy. It is past time we learn this hard truth ourselves.