As the situation in Ferguson, MO, has continued to simmer; it appears we have again fallen into the discussion of race in our country.
Now I want to make something very clear, I don’t know what happened with Darren Wilson that led him to shoot an unarmed Michael Brown and honestly, I am not interested in using my blog space to speculate on that issue.
However, as I did in a past post about poverty, I wonder if we can have an adult conversation on race in America?
I am too young to remember the 1960’s and the changes that happened to our country during that period. To me, the greatest speech of my generation on race was given by then Sen. Obama the“”A More Perfect Union” speech after unacceptable comments surfaced from his former Rev. Wright. In that speech, Obama said…
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation.”
Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze…. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.
This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years.
So we must all recognize, as President Obama said, there is some real reasons behind racial sensitivities and that we can and must have a real conversation about how to overcome this.
So here are my ground rules for this adult conversation.
To my Friends on the left: Never ignore the racist history in your own party. The old Democratic Party was historically very racist. Every year, Democrats from around the country attend Jefferson-Jackson Celebrations to honor the founders of our party. However, Jefferson was a slaveholder, and Jackson was a leader in the Indian removal process. In fact prior to 1964, a significant part of the Democratic Party were southern Democrats, who were primarily southern racists. Now a lot of that changed when President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. After Johnson signed the Act, he turned to aide Bill Moyers and said, “I think we have just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.” In addition, as recently as 10 years ago, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, a former KKK leader, was a hero to many on the left for standing up to George W. Bush on Iraq war policy.
In addition, race is not the issue for every problem we face. Just as we all agree that good deeds are color blind, so are bad deeds. Just because a person of color is arrested, it does not mean they are not guilty.
To my Friends on the Right: Racism still exists. It amazes me how universally people on the right dismiss racism as a reason for anything. An unarmed black kid is shot in Florida by a vigilante; Republicans claim race had nothing do with it. When studies show whites are more likely than blacks to use drugs, but blacks are more likely to be arrested for drugs, Republicans deny racial profiling exists. When stats show that even in liberal New York City, 80% of the people stopped by police were blacks and Latinos, and 85% of those people were frisked, compared to a mere 8% of the white people stopped, Conservatives will claim it has nothing to do with race.
Sorry Conservatives, but racism is alive and systemic in the United States.
Do not ignore the racist history in your own party. After 1964, those former Sothern Democrats found a home in the GOP. While you may consider “States Rights” a great political position, please don’t ignore that the excuse of “States Rights” was used to enslave your fellow man, to legalize separation during Jim Crow, and to restrict the individual rights of minorities.
So, with those rules being set, can we discuss ways to overcome the real racial barriers in the United States?