An Open Letter To The Progressive Community
I don’t know what the rules are anymore. I don’t know what to say or even what to support. I don’t like racism, but if I don’t say that loud enough or frequently enough I am just a non-racist, and that’s kind of racist still, isn’t it? I definitely don’t like acts of racism, but if I question whether race is a motivating factor in every situation, am I racist for not seeing enough race? I know I should see the white-on-black incidents as hate crimes, but something tells me I should keep my mouth shut when speaking up on the black-on-white stuff.
The macro issues plague my thoughts. Is my preference for the quality of your values over your skin color a good thing? Dr. King said it was, and he has a memorial in Washington, D.C, so there’s that. However, am I hearing correctly that we are supposed to only see race? Whoa. But that’s an idea coming from Robin DiAngelo, and since she's a white woman who uses big words, I suppose my not understanding has more to do with me than it does her. We can trust some white people on race issues I guess.
I might disagree with a black leftist, but I don’t often disagree with a black conservative. Am I only sometimes a racist? What if I disagree with a black person philosophically but we are good friends personally? Are just some of my ideas racist...can you be partially or only occasionally racist?
The day-to-day issues muddy the waters, too. Are we supposed to be happy or sad that a noose isn’t really a noose? Is a fake noose still evidence of systemic racism, because it could have been a noose and the visceral response was real? Are we equally outraged over the black beating of an innocent white man because...some whites a long time ago owned black slaves?
Speaking about that, do you have to be a direct descendant to a former slave to claim certain black privileges? What if you’re one of the millions of black immigrants that came later? For that matter, does it matter if your whiteness came to America by way of Ellis Island decades after slavery was abolished? What if your family fought (and died) to end slavery? That has to count for something.
I espouse the belief that every human being has a claim to as much equal treatment under the law, as much equality of opportunity, and as much social mobility and social currency as possible. I say “as much” because I have accepted that mankind, flawed as we are, can only produce an imperfect society. But we try to make it as good as we can. And we have come a long way.
It used to be that everyone was enslaved. That was the norm of the world; the strong conquered the weak. Sometimes it was race based and sometimes it was a “better you than me” sort of thing. America’s was more of the former. Sure, we had white indentured servants, and then white sailors became slaves for black Africans, but we can all agree that when we think of slavery in America, the go-to mental image is one of black slaves at the hands of white Americans. You will get no argument from me there. In retrospect, it was a terrible institution. But that’s how it was back then. We are blessed to have socially, morally, and culturally evolved. Not everyone is so lucky.
I am glad America led the way to ending what had previously been enshrined in human practice. Think about it: In less than one hundred years of existence as a country, the United States essentially initiated momentum to abolish a practice that theretofore prevailed for the previous five thousand years. Incredible. By the way, if any Jews can trace ancestry back to the Hebrew slaves held in Egyptian bondage, can they claim a grievance? Is there a statute of limitations with this?
America’s next challenge was to integrate a formerly-enslaved population that was as reviled as it was supported. That amounts to almost 50% of new members in the South with the stroke of a pen and the winning of a war. Had a society ever attempted that before? Moreover, had a society ever even gone to war with itself to free an entirely distinct racial group before, slaves no less, and in our case leaving over 600,000 white men dead for the sake of 4 million black souls? Maybe; I admit I don’t know.
Although reprehensible by our standards, an understandable backlash morphed into what is known as the Jim Crow Laws. Again, these laws were degrading, dehumanizing, and sometimes fatal, but given that a large white population on one day enslaved a black population on the sole basis of superiority and on another was asked to welcome them into the fold - sometimes at great financial and cultural loss - it stands to reason that not all mindsets would evolve so quickly. And it’s not like it’s just an American problem.
The next big hurdle was civil rights for the black community. As Martin Luther King, Jr. observed in 1960: “Only 7.8 percent of the Negro students in the South are attending integrated schools this year, a hundred years after our emancipation from slavery. At this pace it will take 92 more years to integrate the public schools of the South.” That was difficult, and required a show of force at times, but we got there too, and ahead of his schedule.
I wish I had been alive in the 1950s and 1960s. I would have stood alongside the brave black men and women advocating for social and legal participation. It was certainly not a risk-free undertaking for whites either, but the cause was worthy. How could you not support the message of Dr. King, one that echoed the transcendent vision articulated in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Dr. King asked our society to judge those among us by their character rather than their color of their skin. Is there anything more worthy to be judged by morally who you are as opposed to superficially what you are?
The passage of Civil Rights legislation was an atonement for past wrongs and looked optimistically to the future. With more social, financial, and legal support, the black community was on its way to prosperity in the American tradition. Sure, not everyone was on board. Extreme movements like the Black Panthers and Nation of Islam took the stage, but they were always a fringe group. There might have been ills in society, but no one denied the opportunity to take America by her horns and steer your own destination.
Attitudes have also evolved. In 1958, a Gallup poll revealed only 4% of Americans supported interracial black-white marriages. By 2013, that number jumped to 87%. Similarly, in 1950 only about 50% of the American public supported school integration. By 1995, that figure had skyrocketed to about 96%. A third poll also reveals that in 1958 only 38% of Americans said they would vote for a well-qualified black presidential candidate. In 2013, that number was 96% and coming off the reelection of indeed America’s first black president. That’s higher than for a white female candidate.
What about in other areas, like policing? According to data compiled by the CDC, police killings of blacks have declined by 75% since 1968. That’s good news, right? And despite all of the headlines about blacks being killed by police, there are still 1.5x-2x as many whites killed by police each year as there are blacks. If the institution of the American police force were truly racist, they wouldn’t kill more of their own than they would blacks, right? I wonder if the white victims forgot to tell the police they had privilege before they got shot.
Today, to the best of my knowledge, and thanks entirely to the brave white, black, men, women, knowns, and unknowns of the past several hundred years, we have achieved remarkable progress toward racial unity and integration. When an alleged racist incident occurs, even assuming for a moment that racism was even a contributing factor, there is quick and nearly universal condemnation.
I didn’t hear any cheering for the now-proven false noose that turned up in Bubba Wallace’s garage, but I did see an entire NASCAR community rally to his side and push his car. Likewise, I don’t recall hearing about any support for the actions of Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, but I did hear and see unanimous outrage.
Do you know anyone who was upset that George W. Bush selected as his Secretaries of State the first-ever black man to hold the position and then the very first black woman to do so? I recall a lot of anger toward Bush the Younger for a lot of things, but not for that. Do you know a white teacher in the inner city who actually hates black kids, but shows up early and stays late every day for them? Do you know anyone that goes to sporting events and roots for his team, but still secretly hates the black all-star that leads his team to the victory he is cheering for?
All whites are supposedly racist, but we saw a lot of whites protesting this summer in the streets with their black brothers and sisters. Are they redeemed of their racism? Blacks want allies, but do they want racist allies? That wouldn't make sense. How does being inherently racist and simultaneously allied with blacks for social justice work, exactly?
I want to tell people - maybe I want to tell myself - that America, despite being imperfect, is still performing admirably given the complexity of human nature. It hasn’t been a straight-line path toward undoing past sins like slavery and legalized oppression, but it’s not like we aren’t making headway. And we definitely aren’t the worst offenders out there; we could do worse for minority citizens (this is just one example of many).
What would have happened to black slaves if America never existed? After all, we took in just 4-6% of all African slaves. Presumably the other slave ships would still have sailed. Would there still be a rampant plantation population growing and harvesting sugar cane in the Caribbean? Would blacks all across South America remain in bondage as they farmed and mined riches? Without a Eurocentric call for abolition, would owning blacks slaves have stayed the norm in Arabia?
Do you understand my confusion?
A stronger black community is a stronger America. That'd be a good thing. I still believe if you work hard in America, you can make anything of yourself. Why wouldn’t we want people to rise up? That's a better message than the current narrative that only seeks to push people down. I fear nefarious goals. If black lives did matter, surely there would be an uproar over other challenges in the community? The founders of Black Lives Matter also wouldn’t openly profess their Marxist training, which belies the notion of community healing and instead confers a goal of chaos and societal destruction writ large. Right? History has shown that the path to and a life lived within a Marxist regime is unbearable and murderous.
What happens if we destroy America, without question the best society ever to be formed for people of all backgrounds? Is the alternative better? We saw a glimmer of that new society in Seattle, and I don’t think that’s better. For anybody.
So I conclude the way I began. I don’t know the rules anymore. Let me know when it’s acceptable to engage in honest critique and ask sincere questions. Or should I just wait for you to change the rules again?