Thursday, July 30, 2020

Our Oppressed Show Us How To Be Americans

I just finished watching President Obama's eulogy of American Hero John Lewis.  Yes, I was moved to tears by the message, the messenger and the moment.
I hope you were too.

What struck me about this eulogy and all the others I heard was the dignity, control, intelligence and power of these messengers telling us Lewis' story.  A 20 year old kid from nowhere USA starting a lifetime of bravery, love and perseverance on the streets of a hostile South, his place of birth, not of choice.
No bitterness, no overt displays of anger, an absolute commitment to non-violent protest and messaging. He embraced his tormentors and brutalizers with love and patience.  That was way more than I've ever been capable of.  My parents tried to  teach me how to live with dignity, but somehow his family and community were way better teachers.  Or maybe, more likely, he was a way better person than me. 

The message from our former President Obama and all those giving testimony to Lewis' life was this:  you have oppressed us, but time and time again we give you the space to redeem yourselves, privileged white America.  We do not hate you for what you've done to us, our parents or our ancestors.  Some of you white people wrote both a Declaration of Independence and Constitution that we, Black Americans, admire and take as a blueprint for a better life for you.....not so much us, excluded from that document, including Native Americans, all women and us Black Americans. You were hypocrites at the time, excluding all of the rest of us but likely more than a handful of your founders would come to realize the words of A More Perfect Union meant we all would keep working on this democracy idea until we got it at least close to right.

Sure enough, once again, Americans of good will have taken to the streets, this time a much more diverse crowd, to remind us there is a huge task at hand.  It's in diminishing if not eliminating oppression of Black Americans.  This, in the face of the worst health epidemic in a hundred years and in the face of a cruel, selfish and authoritarian fascist government duly elected under our rules and doing everything they can to demoralize, demean and diminish all Americans of color in favor of a nationalist white majority who have ruled since the beginning of this nation. 

This deplorable minority of white Americans among us came to realize they are not alone in the land....there are others Black and others of color and differing religious and ethnic background who want to share in the glorious idea of equality and freedom for everyone here sharing that ideal. And that reality is threatening to their self image, self-esteem and privilege.

That is what the founders did: gave us an ideal toward which to work to create a More Perfect Union.  That is what Black America and the BLM movement is repeating; giving us an ideal, decidedly attainable if all of us treat one another as equals and put our shoulders to this task.  It doesn't mean that some of us in our lives will, through innate talent, intelligence or just plain grit won't attain more for themselves than some of our equals. But that doesn't empower this group to oppress those who attain less in a material sense.  That was not the idea of America in ideal and shouldn't be if we value fairness and all people as equals.

Just look at the lineup of those speaking on July 30 at John Lewis' funeral.  They were up there because of achievement, yes, connections, status and wealth. But all spoke of shared equality of opportunity and shared equality in participation in our democracy as advocated by John Lewis.  And a commitment to all of us working through the vehicles available to us to make life better and more free for all of us, without one group oppressing the other.

That is the difference they pointed out between Trump style Americans and Lewis style Americans. The Lewis people have an equal passion for equal opportunity for all of us, not just their own bubble, family or circle of support.  And they have gone to the streets repeatedly to voice that demand of a more just America.  And they have endured broken promises of equality, broken commitments to equal participation in our civil, economic and social order called America.  Yet, they, the overwhelming majority of them are peaceful, non-destructive and welcome allies of other ethnic and social backgrounds to join them in the task of making life better for us all.

Trump style Americans want skin pigment to be a deciding factor in winners and losers in striving for enrichment; they want power and domination over people of color and differing backgrounds from their own.  And they want to control the economic wealth and status for their own families and chosen circle without a commitment to advancing the status of others not like them. This is a long rejected social order of the dark ages in European history our founders, inspired by the Enlightenment, aimed to create in the new world.

I continue to want to call myself a Lewis style American.  The alternative for me is unthinkable.  I refuse to be an oppressor or keep company with those who in their silence and inaction, enable the oppressors to oppress.

I am a Lewis American committed to advancing a More Perfect Union.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Imagine Living With One Broken Promise After Another

America is a place of broken promises for millions of our fellow citizens, generation after generation.  Decade after decade; lifetime after lifetime. This can only induce deep, desperate sadness, or for some, rage for many and desperation for most.

It started with being uprooted from ones homeland, family, familiar surroundings and an established life with goals and dreams.  Taken away by force, chained and herded onto a slave ship and transported off to a life, if you survived the trip, of cruelty, forced labor and a life being owned by another human who saw you as a piece of commercial property.

Often you were separated from your family, sold to another brutal owner and denied education, a decent home and subjected to a life of humiliation.  You heard through the grapevine that some of the better educated, elite owners were planning a new government and some of you might even have been hopeful that new government might recognize your humanity and give you some basic human rights.  This was not to be. 

Your next generation or two were somewhat uplifted to learn that the masters who subjected you to this life of humiliation were being challenged to a civil war to free you and grant you rights.  After several years of bloodshed, including some of your brothers and sisters who had been freed fought alongside their liberators and died fighting for their right to basic humane treatment and some form of freedom.

After the conclusion of that horrific war, many of you were freed to develop a new life not being owned by other and pursuing some aspects of your hopes and dreams.  Many of you moved to start that new life and many were promised land and a start on a self-sufficient life of your own.  But that promise was quickly withdrawn, a broken promise..  this was the promise of 40 acres and a mule.  Can you imagine the disappointment in this unfulfilled promise? So, you joined with many of your fellow newly freed people and started little communities, schools to educate yourselves and your children, churches in which to build hope and community and commercial and agricultural enterprises to support life.

Many of you became voters and others among you offered yourselves as elected leaders in both State and Federal governments and started distinguished service to your fellow voters.  These governments started a process of reconstruction in southern states to provide basic life support and community services to lift you out of servitude, into independence and self sufficiency.

But after just a few short years, that reconstruction process was undermined by former slave owners and their supporters and laws were rewritten to deny you the political engagement of male voters with full citizenship rights as well as the modest community services established to uplift you. Can you imagine the disillusionment of this after the promise of freedom?

Soon, that reconstruction was ended and many of your  neighbors moved north to jobs in large cities with newly established industries and free communities but segregated from the majority white population who controlled these new industrial jobs, most of the housing and real estate and service businesses serving the daily needs  for food, clothing and medicines.  Your children had public schools to advance their lives which were separate from the dominant white populations, many newly immigrated from Europe.  But at least you had public schools to build for the next better off generation. This was some hope for you therein.

In large swaths of the U.S.A. males, let alone women  were denied voting and public service rights they had previously been granted and were gradually reduced to lives of limited mobility and citizenship rights and work as tenant farmers, almost akin to servitude their parents and grandparents were subjected to as slaves.  Can you imagine the depth of disappointment in this situation? 

In some areas of both the south, such as Atlanta and Tulsa, you were able to build thriving and robust communities with successful commercial ventures, your own banks and governments you built to provide for rights, order and some freedoms. Some were given hope for a better future.

But many of these communities were subjected to marauding bands of vigilante  and  white law enforcement officials determined to limit or deny your rights, thinking in doing so, they were preserving their own dominance and power.  Many nearby white communities had hanging trees and town squares where Black people suspected of crimes against white people were publicly tortured and hanged in front of crowds of celebrating or hostile white people.   The promised protections of reconstruction and integration into American life were denied to most Black citizens, who were relegated to servitude oriented work in both the south and north.  Black Americans became second class citizens.  Can you imagine the frustration you felt with all these broken promises?

White women began rising up and demanding full rights of citizenship, particularly the right to vote.  These radical reformers worked for 80 years, well into the twentieth century to attain their right to vote, often working side by side with Black women  on this amazing project, with the promise of voting rights for all.  But as success was finally achieved legally for white women,  the American electorate rejected the earned voting rights for Black women and they were left behind in the final resolution of those rights.  Another broken promise.  You, as Black women, despaired at your future in America.

America offered you a separate but equal life well into the 1940's and you stepped forward to serve the nation in a war to end fascism in Europe threatening our own more benign version of fascism studied by the Third Reich in creating their regime. In particular, they studied America's treatment of its formerly enslaved Black citizens.  But heroic Black Americans volunteered to go to war, defeat the fascist threat in both Europe and Asia, spilled their blood on the battlefield and many died.  The survivors were given some honors and privileges for their brave service, including enhanced education.  Public education was legally integrated in the mid-1950's by legal mandate.  But segregated housing patterns limited the integration process, and white citizens chose to depart neighborhoods adjacent to Black neighborhoods for nearly all white suburbia. And equal and remedial funding for ancient inner city public schools was denied as new funding poured into  new white suburban schools.  The promise of equity in public education was denied you.  As a Black person, it felt as if you would never experience full citizenship and acceptance as promise after promise was undermined.

You were still denied integrated housing though gradually, into the 60's, housing restrictions were modified for some, particularly those benefiting from advanced educations and somewhat less restrictive hiring practices of large corporations.  But neighborhood associations maintained restrictive covenants on which racial groups were welcome in their communities.  And though admissions policies of universities were improved to increase enrollment of the very best and brightest Black students, soon racist lawsuits were filed to challenge any equalization of the admissions process, let alone giving deserving Black students a helping hand to improve their chances of admission.  Corporations as well, some with commendable policy changes to reduce discrimination in interviewing and hiring practices of Black Americans, soon were undermined by resentment from white employees incorrectly perceiving unfair advantages for Black people.  And, in the workplace, Black employees found a frustrating mix of welcoming with isolation.  Top executive positions overwhelmingly favored white people.   Thus you found yourself better advantaged in applying for government and post office positions.  Can you imagine yourself as an intelligent, educated Black person most often successful in applying for jobs such as delivering mail?

White backlash to integrated suburban communities, including public schools led to the creation of many mostly white suburban school districts, leaving inner city schools deprived of an adequate tax base to upgrade and modernize public education.  Private and Christian schools in the suburbs as well as very affluent suburban public schools with robust tax bases emerged with at best token integration to assuage the consciences of white citizens.  Black persons felt the rejection and isolation on a very personal and profound level.

As quickly as fair housing laws, civil rights and voting rights legislation were created resulting from a massive national civil rights movement, street protests and aggressive lobbying for these reforms, white America began to challenge them legally.  But even more painful, your white neighbors, co-workers and fellow citizens characterized these attempts at leveling the playing field for you as creating an unfair advantage and extra privileges. Resentment against your very presence began to harden and you had to seek other outlets to show your competence and talent.  Much of that occurred as superior and amazingly determined black athlete's talents became impossible for sports in high schools, colleges and professional athletics to ignore.  White Americans were quite content to sit in arenas and stadiums and cheer you own, support improved compensation for obvious superior talent and would even wear Jerseys with your name on it.  They even bought products advertisers enlisted your aid in selling on TV.
But, you were still not fully accepted as an equal neighbor, classmate and co-worker.  Can you imagine the anger this irrational contradiction created within you? 

The same was true of increasing acceptance of Black scholars, writers,  scientists, authors, journalists and artistic performers.  Obvious grit, hard work, talent and determination were impossible for white America to ignore.  All the while at the community level, your neighborhoods were in decay with denial of tax funds to upgrade and modernize.  You of limited financial means were relegated to aging suburbs and decaying urban centers where toxic land fills, chemical spewing industrial plants and power generating facilities had been located, endangering your health.  Food and healthcare deserts were the order of the day in your lower income and middle class neighborhoods.  These conditions were largely ignored by even so called liberal elected leaders in a position to rectify.  Your periodic eruption of public protests and raging presentations at city and county councils were mostly ignored. 

You were told we just didn't have the money to remedy life and quality of life threatening situations. Can you imagine your anger and frustration at seeing fancy gated communities build in distant nearly all white suburbs and ex-urban areas and marinas full of yachts while your appeals for remedies were rejected or ignored?  Some of your fellow entrepreneurial ghetto dwellers, deprived of accessible employment paying a living wage over the years reverted to the sale of street drugs, a form of self medication to despairing, unhealthy and hopeless Black Americans.  This enterprise was largely financed by elite, white wholesale level dealers who owned those yachts in the marina. Imagine going through generation after generation being made to feel your entire community were drug users and drug dealers, though the metrics otherwise disproved this?  And imagine how it feels to have your fellow white Americans fearful of coming into your community, fearful of violent drug related crime, though the actual behavior was limited to a very few Black residents.

This created a backlash mostly from white America called the War on Drugs, promoted by politicians eager to appear to be supporting law and order.  The object of most of this effort was aimed at  Black street dealers most easily observed, accused and charged with crime.  This created the illusion of progress when arrests were made in the 'hood.  This War led to the militarization of policing  in the 'hood, excluding suburbia and a high tolerance in White America for aggressive behavior toward these  so called criminals.   Over time, this aggressive policing extended to so called preventive policing with broken windows policies and the general suspicion that Black males were potential crime committers requiring intrusion into their lives on the roadways and streets of America.  White America was made to feel safer from crime.  You, the Black American, most of you male,were made to feel constantly under suspicion and both resentful and fearful of police abuse and restrictions on your  rights for free movement.

Over the years, policing evolved from the role of peacemakers and guarantors of safety to warriors fighting people they profiled, mostly Black men, stalking them, intimidating them, abusing them and shooting many down in cold blood as on a battlefield.  Imagine being a lawful Black person fearing those commissioned to protect you from a white American perspective, but who represent a threat to your very safety and serenity?  You feel insecure, untrusting and hunted on a daily basis.

Leaders your fellow Americans have elected, both locally but most visibly on a national level, have gained their office with both veiled and overt racism.  In particular,  Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush I and II and now, most outrageously, Donald Trump.  Nixon characterized you as less than human and used demeaning language to and about you.   Reagan demonized you and overtly began the process of overturning legal rights designed to protect all our rights; he characterized you as welfare grifters.  The Bushs' transformed the Republican party into the party of white racists and further eroded your limited progress in being accepted as full citizens.  Trump, most outrageously diminished you as less than human and dangerous.  He, more than any other President encouraged racism against you and other groups and empowered those sworn to white nationalism and violent oppression against you.  Yet demanded your patriotism and loyalty to him, your oppressor.

So, here you are, now presented with the Black Lives Matter movement, brilliantly created to focus attention on all this negative history.  It give you hope, including the welcomed support and public participation of young citizens, mostly denied the history detailed here in their education, but somehow understanding the hate they see from white America.  They are standing and walking with you, which may portend finally for significant attention to solutions to this national shame, a crisis.

These hopeful days, not the first to launch in the cycles of American history, give you some relief from the genetic, familial, written and oral history of the horrors to which you have been subjected.  The rage, despair, suspicion and hopelessness you feel are still very present.  Some white Americans around you understand this history of oppression, income and financial disparity,  educational, civic and social trauma you have experienced is not easily fixed.  The daily personal insults to which you are subjected are not disappearing anytime soon even with improved political leadership.

But some of us, a significant plurality of the population stand with you in revolutionary steps to remedy some of this injustice which has been visited on Black America whose brilliance, courage and determination is largely responsible for what good America has built and stands for. We will marginalize and shun those among us who wish you harm, fear you or hate you.  We join you in saying, Power to the People and commit to doing what we can, including loving and respecting you to move you and us to a life worth living. We commit to fulfilling the broken promises.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Honor Revolutionaries Without Slaves

Seven of the original writers and signers of the Declaration of Independence were not slave owners.  Let's honor them.  John Adams, Samuel Adams, Oliver Ellsworth, Alexander Hamilton, Robert Treat Paine, Thomas Paine and Roger Sherman.  They hailed from Massachusetts, Connecticut,  New York, and Pennsylvania.

Others of these patriots later engaged with anti-slavery societies, including Ben Franklin and John Jay.

Of note, our First President, George Washington, freed his slaves as an act of conscience.

I have for most of my life, applied the 80/20 % rule to my analysis of things.  Here again, about 20% of the creators of our country did the right thing about the issue of slavery in their lives.  Same was true of the supporters of the Revolution.....supported by about 20% of the Colony's populace.

The other 80% pursued their own self-interest agendas while the 20% did the hard work of creating the great American Experiment, risking alienation and rejection by the majority.

Maybe the current Revolution in the streets to do the right thing vis a vis racism and the need for systemic change and reform is inspired by our tradition of Revolution and attempts to perfect this Union that started in 1776.  The current polling in support of the change being advocated in the streets seems to suggest my 80/20% rule of thumb might well be grossly understated and wrong.  Let us hope so for the sake of the continuation of our Experiment toward a real democracy.