GOP senators Mitt Romney, Tim Scott speak on structural racism in forums

Even though he is a U.S. senator, Tim Scott says he was stopped by police this year. And last year. And seven times in one especially trying year. He says he’s been stopped 18 times over 20 years because of his race.

Still, the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate told a Wednesday webinar — sponsored by the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation in Utah — that he’s learned that a key is not to act with bitterness or violence toward racism, but with civility and listening.

“It’s important for us to take a step back from our ideological preferences or positions and say the person on the other side of the debate is not my enemy,” he said. “They may be my opponent on this issue, but I don’t view them as an enemy of what I want to be the outcome for this nation.”

He added that he’s found that in tough debates on such issues as police reform, “if I don’t demonize the other side, it’s certainly easier for them to come back to the table.”

The senator said the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the longtime civil rights leader who died last week, also told him shortly after Scott arrived in Congress, “No matter what happens in your life, Tim, do not let it make you bitter. ... Don’t get bitter. Make it better for other people.”

Because of such advice, Scott said, “I tried to use my personal experiences with discrimination to craft legislation that would improve the outcome of the next person who finds himself in that very unfortunate position.”

The South Carolina senator said many of his Republican and other colleagues — and Americans in general — still do not believe or realize that racism exists, nor understand how much it hurts to be pulled over constantly by police.

“It really does leave a stain on your soul,” he said. “When you know you’re right or that you are innocent, to be labeled as guilty is belittling, sometime devaluing and even to the point of … dehumanizing.”

Scott said that the vast majority of police officers are good, but “I also know that if we can put the spotlight on the bad cops and get rid of them, the entire reputation of the community in blue will be improved and it will bridge the gap to those of us born in black.”

Nikki Walker, director of brand excellence and community engagement for Domo, also told the webinar that, as a Black woman, she is indelibly affected by racism and racist institutions. “There are colleagues of mine who have never experienced that, so they don’t understand what the big deal is.”

She said the way to move beyond that “is having conversations and saying, ‘Well, this is why it’s a big deal.‘ ”

Scott said another key in the debates on race may be some advice that he gained from Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

“When people of good conscience stop and start asking penetrating questions about how to bring [racial] parity into organizations, how to reach out to diverse communities,” Scott said, “that to me tells me that organization is on solid ground.”

The Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, which sponsored the webinar, calls itself an incubator for policy scholarship, a forum for political discourse and a springboard for civic engagement.

Romney on racism

During a virtual town hall hosted Wednesday by the NAACP, Sen. Mitt Romney and NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson spoke on racism in America and how it’s being played out through protests, voting and the pandemic. Moderated by White House correspondent April Ryan, Romney said the entire country has turned its focus to the fact there is still systemic and structural racism in America, saying it is “unacceptable” that racism has not been eliminated. He said that having procedures and policies that make people unequal is “wrong.”

Romney said that while some people in Utah disagreed with his voting for impeaching President Donald Trump, he voted his conscience. While calling the current number of minority votes for Republicans “embarrassingly small,” Romney said he believes the Republican Party could draw more minority votes and interest if the focused on being united. However, Trump is not the leader to do that.

“The president has said things that have been divisive,” Romney said. He later explained that when Trump was running for president, he appealed to those Republican voters who have “racist tendencies.” Since becoming president, Trump has continued with that appeal, Romney said.