Sunday, January 27, 2008

On race

I'm a latecomer to this discussion at mtpolitics and don't want to get involved in the overwrought comments section there. But I would like to make a point or two, especially since this is likely to be a campaign theme.

First, Craig sees no distinction in 2008 between blacks aspiring to build stronger black families and communities and whites expressing similar aspirations. To me, the distinction seems obvious and potent. Whites, of course, spent centuries consciously building strong white communities, often on the backs of people of other skin colors. We finally figured out that was a source of great evil, and we have been trying to get over it.

But we are still top dogs. To refer to the "white community" is not only racist but redundant. The community we all live in is the community whites built, so references to white identity are widely recognized as code for a desire to return to the days when blacks were menial laborers and Indians were savages.

When blacks use similar language, no such code is implied. I read the references Craig refers to as a call for blacks to shake off the bonds of history and assume their rightful place as equals -- not as rulers -- in the world community. I detect no threat in it, and if it works, I am all for it.

Second, Craig asks in comments, "So, now that we’re 5-6 generations removed [from slavery], do we still have to wring our hands over it? When does the statute of limitations expire?"

I do not know the answer to that question, but I would suggest that the statute hasn't tolled yet. We are not nearly so far away from slavery as the chronology suggests. I have made this point before, but it may bear repeating: I grew up in the South in the 1950s. Blacks had to sit in a separate section at the movie theater. Blacks had to attend their own (inferior) schools. Few blacks dared date, much less marry, whites. Blacks couldn't play football in the Southwest Conference and had been in major league baseball for only a handful of years.

(Odd side note: a resident of my hometown was Lou Rochelli, whom I once interviewed and who helped show Jackie Robinson the ropes at second base on the Dodgers; he then became a player-manager in Great Falls.)

My parents, who certainly understood the evils of racism and tried to protect their children from it, still never quite got over the surprise of meeting blacks who were well dressed, well educated, well housed and well spoken. It took them years to fit that idea into their concept of how the world could be.

So I have often wondered: If I had grown up black in my hometown, confined to second-rate jobs, attending a second-rate school, constantly derided by whites who thought I would never be good enough or smart enough to do any better - and who had the weight of law on their side - would I be over that now?

I suspect not. I think I would carry that with me to the grave, and I suspect that many others who say that's all ancient history would feel exactly the same way. We have miles to go.


jcurmudge said...

How true. I grew up in West Virginia with a completly seperated society in th 1930's and 1940's. W.Va. did desegregate with the Suprme Court decision, but that didn't make blacks welcome in most whiet enclaves.

Shane C. Mason said...


Thanks for putting this into perspective. I chose to not get involved with that thread because I could not muster the words that you have so eloquently crafted here. Its tougher than it seems.

Dave Budge said...


Throughout my fifteen years in Chicago I had the great good fortune to work with many blacks ranging in age from young adults to senior citizens. Having come from the northern Rockies I held to the idea that blacks embraced the idea of white racism as a political tool. I was naive.

But it was an interesting education. I found generally that older blacks, who were indeed relegated to the second class in their youth, had experiences that assumed were long enough ago that they would have forgotten. But as I get older I know that things that happened 40 years ago are really not so distant in my own memory. I'm sure I would not have forgotten by now.

But it was interesting to know the attitudes of younger blacks who, in comparison, only knew the stories or their parents and the visceral contempt of modern racists. Not that that's nothing, but most of them had fully integrated into the rewards of the modern economy. One must remember that, although blacks have a disproportionate number living in poverty, over 80% of blacks live in the middle-class and above now. The people in that younger cohort that I found most successful were the ones who "pushed past" racist rhetoric and were determined not to be subsumed by a second class mindset.

More interesting yet were the relationships my kids had with black youths. I could easily see that the next generation was far less likely to subscribe to an us v them racial doctrine - regardless of their embrace of their black culture which their parents had imbued on them at home. It's encouraging to me and I think we're closer to putting a great deal of that behind us within the next generation (or two.)

It's unfortunate that it takes so long but we should recognize our progress by taking identity politics out of the modern lexicon.

Eric said...

I think that Craigs' argument is valid.

In America today, nobody is being forced into being a permanent underclass.

My Mom was very racist, and when I was a kid in southern Missouri I had an attitude, because the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, or better said, the cracker doesn't fall too far from the box.

We were so poor that we would have had to come up about the social ladder two rungs to even be considered white trash.

I didn't stay there.

If I was black I wouldn't have stayed there either.

Where's personal accountability in your argument David?

David said...

I'm all in favor of personal accountability. I just think that if I hit you over the head with a stick for 400 years, then one day decide to quit, it's probably up to you, not to me, to decide when it stops hurting.