WASHINGTON: The tension in our fight for racial equality is growing. The present tensions are, in part, a response to the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. Other killings, such as Rayshard Brook and Breonna Taylor also increasing tensions. The impact upon black Americans and other minorities of the coronavirus pandemic has been disproportionate. Clearly, our racial divisions are still with us, as continuing demonstrations across the country make clear. More people are yelling, less are listening. Americans, Black and white, are failing to exercise their right free speech. Instead speak out and suffer the cancel culture.
It is important that we understand the complexities of race in America, which is often simplified at the expense of a real understanding of a complex and evolving reality. A reality that is often overlooked is the real progress we have made. (CHRONOLOGY-Who banned slavery when?)
Remembering segregation in America
Living in the South, Black Americans could not eat in restaurants, stay in the hotels, or use the restrooms, among other things. There were “white” and “colored” signs everywhere. It was against the law for blacks and whites to marry. In many areas, it was impossible for Blacks to vote. If anyone suggested when I was in college that we would live to see a Black president, it would have been considered an impossibility.
Then things began to slowly change. In 1954, the Supreme Court declared school segregation to be unconstitutional. In 1957, President Eisenhower (R) sent troops to Little Rock to integrate the schools. (May 17, 1954: Supreme Court Rules Racial Segregation in Schools Unconstitutional) Even earlier, President Truman (D) integrated the military.
In 1967, the Supreme Court unanimously, by a 9-0 vote, found laws against inter-racial marriage, miscegenation (Loving v. Virginia), unconstitutional. (Interracial Marriage Laws History and Timeline) In 1964, Congress passed legislation forbidding discrimination in restaurants, hotels, and other areas of public accommodation.
Slowly, individuals of color were able to advance to the highest positions in American society.
Thurgood Marshall was named to the U.S. Supreme Court. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice became Secretaries of State. Then Barack Obama became President, elected twice. Black Americans have distinguished themselves in every area of Society, as CEOs of respected businesses, on Wall Street, in sports, literature, entertainment, and every aspect of American life. By any standard, this represents dramatic progress.
In 44 AFRICAN AMERICANS WHO SHOOK UP THE WORLD, Undefeated lists the following Black influencers:
Alvin Ailey (Dance), Muhammad Ali (Boxing), Shirley Chisholm (Politician), W.E.B. Du Bois (Sociologist), Frederick Douglas (Abolitionist, Author), Thurgood Marshall (Supreme Court Justice), Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman (Abolitionists), Duke Ellington (Musician) and Michael Jordan (Basketball).
Blacks have also achieved financial and business parity. Black Billionaires in America include (The Black Billionaires 2019) David Steward (Technology), Robert F. Smith (Equity), Michael Jordan, and Oprah Winfrey.
According to 50 Black Enterprise
“Wealthy black people account for approximately 4% of the nation’s top-earning households and the wealth gap between them and the average black person is staggering.”
Serious disparities also exist between black and white Americans.
“…the vast majority of today’s wealthy black people are first-generation rich, with less than 7% benefiting from any sort of inheritance. This is compared to nearly 40% of their white counterparts, benefiting from inheritances that are on average 10 times larger than any inheritance that the black family likely received.”
Children who grow up poor, as 32 percent of Black children do, tend to do badly by a variety of measures. They face higher risks of dropping out of school, getting pregnant while still teenagers, incarceration, experiencing poverty in adulthood, and dying early.
There are aspects of black American private life that exacerbate these problems.
Respected black academics such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams and William Allen point to the role of increasingly unstable families play in passing black disadvantage down the generations. Seven in ten black babies are born out of wedlock, something which was not true in the post-Worlld War ll years. (Blame the welfare state, not racism, for poor blacks’ problems: Thomas Sowell)
Harvard sociologist William Julius Williams, who is Black, points out that the rate of joblessness and the number of out-of-wedlock births in the black community both increased in the 1960s. (The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy)
The ravages urban deindustrialization and mass incarceration inflicted on black men permanently reduced the pool of eligible partners for black women, he argues. Sociologists Kathryn Edin of Princeton and Maria Kefalas of St. Joseph’s University argue that behavior, policy, present-day discrimination, and the unfair initial conditions seeded by centuries of historical discrimination tied together in a knot of pathology.
All of these things——persistent racism most important among them—-leads to the current situation.
A vision of racial equality in America
The traditional goal of Black leaders from Frederick Douglass to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was to push the American society toward their vision of equality of opportunity and equality before the law. They sought a genuinely color-blind society in which, in King’s words, men and women would be judged by “the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”
More recently, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, what The Economist calls “a rival dangerous approach” has emerged. (Tackling racism: The new ideology of race –And what is wrong with it)
In The Economist’s view,
“But a dangerous rival approach has emerged from American universities (see article). It rejects the liberal notion of progress. It defines everyone by their race, and every action is racist or anti-racist. It is not yet dominant, but it is dynamic and it is spreading out of the academy into everyday life. If it supplants liberal values, then intimidation will chill open debate and sew division to the disadvantage of all, black and white.”
“This ideology has some valid insights. Racism is sustained by unjust institutions and practices. Sometimes, as in policing, this is overt. More often, in countless put-downs and biases, it is subtle but widespread and harmful. But then the ideology takes a wrong turn by seeking to impose itself by intimidation and power. Not the power that comes from persuasion and elections, but from silencing your critics, insisting that those who are not with you are against you and shutting out those who are deemed privileged or disloyal to their race. It is a worldview where everything and everyone is seen through the prism of ideology—-who is published, who gets jobs, who can say what to whom, one in which in-groups obsess over orthodoxy in education, culture and heritage, one that enforces absolute equality of income, policy by policy, paragraph by paragraph, if society is to count as just.”
If America were really a “racist” country it would not have spent the years since the 1954 school segregation decision moving toward a society that is fair and has racial equality. This, sadly, has not yet been fully achieved. The mistreatment of Black men and women by the police is one example. I remember when I was in law school writing an article for the William and Mary Law Review about Virginia’s law against inter-racial marriage.
What right, I asked in this article, did the State of Virginia have to tell people whom they might marry? Shortly after this article, that Virginia law, and similar laws throughout the South, was declared unconstitutional. (On this day: Bans on interracial marriage ruled unconstitutional thanks to a Virginia couple)
Later, I was a member of President Ronald Reagan’s transition team at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In the report we prepared, we called for an end to racial discrimination of any kind in employment and for the establishment of a “color-blind” society.
Some years ago, I participated in a debate with a young lady representing the NAACP. Her premise is that “America is a racist society.” In my response, I pointed out that she was too young to remember the years of segregation and how we had moved away from that legalized racism. But that we still had a long way to go.
Now, we have advanced much further, having TWICE elected a Black president. But we still have a long way to go. But our goal should be the goal of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. That being a genuinely color-blind society.
Can we achieve a color-blind society?
Genuine equality means that all Americans, regardless of race, first respect the right of free speech. Sigmund Freud saying:
“Civilization began the first time an angry person cast a word instead of a rock.”
Ending the casual use of the epithet “racist” to categorize those with whom we disagree is a rock. Demanding segregation of Blacks on college campuses is a rock. (Racial Segregation On American Campuses: A Widespread Phenomenon)
It is healthy for us to explore the history of slavery and segregation. But it is unhealthy to insist on only a single perspective. People are as complicated, as our societies.
That is why we are fortunate to have a Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech, which is now under attack by the so-called “cancel culture.” Recently leading writers and intellectuals, like Bill T. Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Bari Weiss, Noam Chomsky, David Brooks, J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Gloria Steinem, Malcolm Gladwell, and Salman Rushdie. among them, recently pointed out. (‘Harper’s Magazine’ Publishes Letter Against ‘Cancel Culture’
Hopefully, when the passions of the moment are over, men and women of goodwill, of all races will continue their efforts to move America toward a genuinely color-blind society.
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