Sunday, July 31, 2016

Black and White

Sorry for the gap in time since my last post.  After July 4th, I worked 17 days straight, which led right to our yearly family vacation.  Many ideas swirling through my mind, but never felt the need to post, or perhaps just didn't have the desire.  I guess writing can be like that, as is true about all of life's experiences.  Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't.

So much has happened this past month, especially in regards to the 2016 Presidential Election.  Now that we know who the nominees are, the long slog (not my word, heard it a few times in print and on TV this past weekend but it seems right on) begins.

But there is plenty of time for that.

First, a comment or two about a recent headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer which reflected the speech given by President Obama after the horrific killing of 5 police officers in Dallas, Texas.  The headline was "Not Who We Are".  Of course, the vast majority of Americans are shocked at the killing of those who work to protect and to serve.  It is the kind of lawlessness that, regardless of any possible justification, must be universally condemned.  We must remain united in our stand against violence directed as those who put their lives on the line, despite the many other areas in which we may disagree.

But, we may want to take a second look at the statement "Not Who We Are", not from the perspective of a unified stand against violence directed at law enforcement, but from the idea that we are not divided, and that within that division there is not real prejudice at work.

The election of the first African American President was a watershed for America, both politically and socially.  While there were certainly some who voted for him because he was black, and others who voted against him because he was black, Obama won both the 2008 and 2012 elections with large pluralities across almost all possible population groups.  In essence, he was judged to be fit to be our leader, due to his vision, and his uplifting message to the electorate.

Unfortunately, during his 8 years in office, those who could not accept this revolutionary concept, fought his efforts to fulfill his vision every step of the way.  Whether it was by questioning his birth nation, his patriotism, or his desire to be president for white people, there was a non-stop attack on Obama, his policies, and his intentions.  I do not have statistics to support this, but I do not feel I am wrong when I say that no other president in modern times, was attacked on so many levels than Barack Obama.  Led by the Fox Network, commentator after commentator disagreed with his policies, which is fine, then implied those policies were meant to destroy America, that he purposefully hated the country he was elected to lead.

In the meantime, black Americans, beside themselves with joy at this historic turn, became empowered to advance black issues that had been ignored.  Unemployment rates double and triple that of other races.  Discrepancies in percentage of young black men in jail for crimes similar to those of their white counterparts.  Too few black police officers, parole officers, and judges in the judicial system which seemed to correspond to those places with unusually high incarceration rates for people of color.  And high profile cases of black men being killed by white police officers which almost always resulted in those officers being acquitted of any wrongdoing.

Sadly, rather than uniting us in our continuing mutual struggle to improve the rights of all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, etc. those cases merely caused the two sides to dig in even deeper.  Those who were already neck deep in the backlash against the new reality, blamed Obama for exacerbating race relations, even while denying that prejudice still existed in the judicial system and among a minority of police departments.  Rather than joining with those of color to make our legal system truly blind to emotion, those forces against diversity rallied behind pundits who blamed the victim rather than the criminal.  Just as phrases like boys will be boys were used to justify rape when a girl wore a skirt too short, intimations flowed like water that a higher percentage of blacks behind bars and in trouble must be because they are black, statistics that whites commit crimes at similar rates not withstanding.

Of course, race relations has always been a visceral issue.  Statistics can never trump raw emotion and deep seated prejudice.  We see the same kind of emotion when immigration is debated.  The facts that immigrants have always added to America's strength, economically as well as socially, that even illegal immigrants do more good for America than bad, means little when it is convenient to blame our troubles on outsiders rather than looking in the mirror.

So perhaps, this is who we are.  A nation in transition.  Able to accept the equality of all people intellectually, but not emotionally.  We can vote for a black leader because our vote is cast with forethought, with reason.  But we demonstrate, we demonize, we revert back to whatever prejudice lurks in our roots when trouble comes a calling.  We forget that no issue is black and white, that gray areas abound in all discussions.  We prefer simple answers to complex problems, and generally speaking, simple answers rely on simple thinking processes, rather than in depth analysis.

We prefer to talk of walls regardless of how unrealistic that answer is, rather than conciliation, and acknowledgement that white and non-white people are part of the problem, and part of the solution.

Finally, though I recognize we may be in the midst of a slight backward step, we must also understand that a slight backward step often follows a leap forward.  The old guard, those who prefer to pretend all was right and golden in the past before (name your minority) demanded equal treatment, those who represent that mindset are fading from view.  They represent a time when separate but equal was OK with them, when women stayed at home, out of the boardroom and halls of government, when gay described a good time.

So, I think it is with good reason that I continue to be hopeful, continue to believe that the old guard is slowly being replaced by a new awareness, a new perspective on how we treat each other.  I continue to believe that the coalition forged by Obama among women, the young and unmarried,
non-whites, moderates of both parties, and those with weaker ties to the dogma of religions, will continue to exert a bigger influence on the direction of our country, and will eventually erase the backward step we are experiencing with another leap forward.