Is it Always About Race?

 

The question is not mine although I mentally argue the subject with myself quite often.  The person who asked the question pointed out, “You seem to be obsessed by race” meaning race relations.  He is intelligent, both well read and with common sense.  Because of his intelligence and his view of the world, I had to wonder if he might be correct.  If I am obsessed, what about people of color.

I have been told, “We must move on.  No one alive today has owned slaves or picked cotton as a slaveMove on!”  Having picked cotton as a small child I might dispute that assertion except I was “paid” with a BB Bat occasionally and was not living in a home that sharecropping was an only vocation available.  Okay, for argument’s sake I’ll give you that assertion but would add the word legally…but then there are those prisons who still rent out inmates for profit, the Angola Plantation of modern times.

I would also ask you to shift your thinking to the years of my lifetime.  I began life in the Jim Crow South.  The Brown case that overturned Plessy v Ferguson landed like a wet cow patty in my part of the world in 1954.  Being four at the time, I didn’t notice.  I was much more interested in Tonka Toys, recreating the Gunfight at the Ok Corral, and defeating the Imperial Japanese Army with little green soldiers than worrying about a court case I had no understanding of.  The youngster of color I played with didn’t notice either…until 1956 when we both went off to our still “separate but equal” schools.

For the next fourteen years South Carolina, along with the rest of the South, drug their collective feet, rushing like runaway snails toward complete integration, kicking and screaming all the way.  Southerners heard “deliberate” and ignored “speed” in “with all deliberate speed”1, first ignoring it, then instituting “token” integration before going the whole hog and integrating all public schools in 1970…that was in my little piece of the South…again, during my lifetime.  The last public school to integrate was in Mississippi in 2016, sixty-two years after Brown.  Yes, for some folk, it is still about race.

Desegregation was not well received, integration even worse.  Our collective “white” anger was not just limited to the South.  Some of the most racist areas still exist, and they are not restricted to the states seceding in late 1860 and early 1861.  Boston, Massachusetts, for instance, didn’t integrate their schools until 1976, with rioting in addition to kicking and screaming.

During my lifetime, I have very vivid memories of people who made it about race.  Memories of our “kicking and screaming” in the form of bombs blowing up churches, burning buses, election workers buried under a dam, firehoses and Billy clubs, what was once human beings hung from a tree, and police dogs.  If I have those hateful memories of events during my lifetime…what about people of color?  Should we all ignore these memories or should we approach it head on and accept our racist past by getting rid of it in our racist present and banning it from our future?

I’ve specified years beginning in 1954.  My lifetime.  Brown in ’54, Little Rock Nine in ’57, the Greensboro sit-ins in ’60, a bomb in Birmingham in ’63, Dr. King’s assassination and a hell of a lot more in ’68, Mother Emmanuel in 2015, Senator Steve King in 2019 wondering when “white nationalist and white supremacist” became offensive words.

I jumped a few years for expediency and just listed a few to make a point.  There are seventy-four million Baby Boomers of all races alive today who have lived through Jim Crow or institutional racism in education, the justice system, prisons, housing, jobs, voting, just to name a few.  Those memories are real as is the discrimination many still face in 2019.

What discrimination?  Before you say, “But….”  I’ve researched the data and you can too.  I’m not going to do it for you.  The numbers are skewed for a reason.  You should research if you still believe in science and data…if not, please go elsewhere and harass some other poor soul.

With forethought, those who came before us, systematically placed restrictions on people they considered the other.  Even “Po white trash” facilitate their own dilemmas by allowing and even assisting in white supremacy.  The least racist of us perpetuate the system covertly because “Those are the lessons we grew up with and learned.”

“But….”  I know.  You have Black or Hispanic friends, maybe po white trash friends too.  Jeffery Dahmer had friends he didn’t eat.  He was still a serial cannibal.

Stereotypes still exist and people around me perpetuate them all the time.  I have been guilty of taking the path of least resistance…and maybe even perpetuating.  No longer.  If we are going to end inequalities in the system who should heft the banner?  Those who are still unequal in the eyes of the ruling class?  White supremacy will not end on its own nor will it end by the efforts from people of color alone.  White supremacy must end by the efforts of whites.

“But….”  I know, there will always be racist people.  Laws passed will not make racism and white supremacy magically disappear.  People with racist attitudes do not need to be in positions of power ala Senator Steve King.  They don’t need to be bosses, policemen or educators either.  It is up to the white race to call out those of our own who are.

I do realize that every action or slight doesn’t have to be about race and there are some who just want to make “everything” about race…certainly our media it would seem.  Until we truly believe, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) are created equal”, it will be about race…or bigotry…or misogyny…or…?  Equal must be equal…it cannot be by degrees, by social class or by race.”

Dr. King would have turned ninety today had he lived.  One of his most famous quotes, from one of his most famous speeches, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” is oft repeated. It is a substantial quote but in the light of today’s cultural atmosphere, I believe the final paragraph of the speech is more relevant.  Speaking of freedom, Dr. King said,

“And when this (freedom) happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men, and white men, Jews, and Gentiles, Protestants, and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”2

I don’t know if I will see true freedom for all in my lifetime.  I doubt it.  I pray my daughter and grandchildren see it.  A time when everyone’s children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin (or religion, gender, etc.) but by the content of their character.”  

1 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

2 Source: Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have A Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World, ed. James Melvin Washington (San Francisco: Harper, 1986), 102-106.

The image is from Richmond 2Day http://richmond2day.com/city-host-dr-martin-luther-king-jr-day-program-encourages-residents-volunteer/mlk/

Further musings may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM