Sunday, April 25, 2010

One Nation Divided, Part II: Crisis of Color

It was one of those rare balmy days in New Orleans when the air was perfect enough to allow me to keep my windows open. I could hear one of my neighbors talking to someone, and soon realized he was on the phone speaking to his son. I couldn’t help eavesdropping because I’m just that nosey:
“I don’t hate white people, but listen, you can’t trust them," he said. "If you think those guys you work with are your friends, just wait until it comes down to you or them to take the rap for something on the job. They’ll turn on you so fast you won’t know what hit you. My grandma taught me that and I never forgot it. That’s just how they are.”
The racial divide in this country is worse now than it has ever been in my lifetime, including the Civil Rights era, when there was rioting in the streets, coast to coast. Anyone who thinks the black and white citizens of our country are harmoniously co-existing is delusional. Here’s some evidence:

• Headline: April 14, 2010, Reuters News: "Judge tells Mississippi schools to stop segregating." If you have never heard of the rural Mississippi borough of Walthall County, join the club. It seems tiny Walthall County has been systematically separating its white students and black students, despite the desegregation rulings handed down by the U.S. government more than 40 years ago. Not only have hundreds of white students been allowed to transfer outside of their residential district so as to not have to attend classes with black students; but even those schools who mix races in the buildings have classrooms for whites and classrooms for blacks. In 2010. Worth noting is that the revelation about Walthall County comes just days before the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (“Snick”) holds its 50th reunion, 836 miles away in Raleigh, NC. Snick was a group of young people, including emerging luminaries like GA Congressman John Lewis and NAACP President Julian Bond, who staged lunch counter sit ins, orchestrated the legendary Freedom Rides and staged countless peaceful demonstrations in the name of civil rights. As they gather, there will no doubt be a societal cloud looming over their festivities, brought on by Tea Party demonstrators who called John Lewis a nigger during the recent health care debates. Walthall County’s decades-long defiance of desegregation laws will likely be a pervasive topic.

• Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared April “Confederate History Month.” Not only were vast numbers of Virginians offended by McDonnell’s recognition of the Confederacy, but the fact that slavery was not even mentioned was a clear indication that the Governor did not see this historical abomination as significant at all. After much public protest, McDonnell revised his proclamation to include mention of slavery. The annual commemoration of the Confederacy bit the dust back in 2001, but McDonnell brought it back, saying, “"I felt just as I've issued dozens and dozens of other commemorations, that it was something that was worthy of doing so people can at least study and understand that period of Virginia history and how it impacts us today.” Is Bob just nostalgic for the good ole slavery days, or is this really a political move to strengthen his position with his base supporters? It is most likely the latter, but what does that say about the mindset of his supporters?

• Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour just could not see what all the fuss was about after all hell broke out in response to McDonnell’s proclamation. Said he: “To me, it’s a sort of feeling that it’s a nit, that it is not significant, that it’s not a — it’s trying to make a big deal out of something (that) doesn’t amount to diddly.” Interestingly enough, the Governor’s mansion is less than 100 miles from soon-to-be infamous Walthall County. Even more interesting is that Barbour also declared April in Mississippi to be “Confederate Heritage Month,” calling on his citizens to celebrate the “rich heritage” of the Confederacy. Like his GOP colleague in Virginia, Barbour made no mention of slavery in his proclamation, even in a state with the highest percentage of black citizens in the U.S. For a guy who is rumored to be considering a Presidential run in 2012, Barbour emerges as something of a figure with his head in the sand. Note to Haley: What plays in Mississippi does not stay in Mississippi.

• The Southern Poverty Law center released findings that from 2000 to 2008, the number of hate groups in the U.S. rose by 50%. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2008, 72.9 percent of hate crime victims were targeted by attackers with an anti-black bias.

• The emerging Tea Party was ostensibly formed so that politically and fiscally conservative citizens could form a collective voice to protest the 2008 bailouts and the 2009 stimulus package. While the party members continue to claim that racism is not inherent in its followers, those who attend Tea Party events suggest otherwise. Anecdotal reports show that protestors routinely carry signs with racist connotations, often directed at President Obama. Typical of those signs: “Cap Congress and trade Obama back to Kenya.” Others carry signs with renderings of Obama as Hitler. Radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh and a number of his neocon cronies say it’s much ado about nothing, and that Tea Partiers are not racist. Right.

The American culture has a tendency to focus on very few issues at a time. (Best evidence? Financial reform didn’t go front burner until healthcare simmered down). So, in the 1960’s, we focused on Vietnam and civil rights, two seemingly disparate societal issues. When Vietnam was finally settled, did the civil rights movement lose momentum at the same time? Maybe. And that is unfortunate for all of us. As mentioned earlier, the racial divide in this country is more evident than ever, and with an economy that has tanked and stayed sluggish, frustration and anger are front and center. Is it just me or does it seem like racial tension is reaching a boiling part in many quarters around the U.S.? If you lived through the 1960s, you know exactly what I am talking about. If you were not around at that time, stay tuned, stay alert and watch your back.

No comments: