If you is white, you's alright,
if you's brown, stick around,
but if you's black, hmm, hmm, brother,
get back, get back, get back
Recent events indicate that Jim Crow didnt die, it mutated. As a result many black citizens still find themselves sitting at the back of the opportunity bus.
As a white Berkeley guy, I claim no special insight on racism. I used to think of it as an embarrassment, an aberration, someone elses problem. Now that Im older, now that I have people-of-color in my family and among my friends, it pisses me off. I take it personally.
At least in the abstract most Americans disavow bigotry. They feel that its shameful that American citizens are being discriminated against because of the color of their skin. Nonetheless, its still happening. Unfortunately, its no longer politically correct to talk about racism. In many circles its passe', too sixties.
The latest Gallop Poll asks What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today? Americans are bothered by a lot of things: Iraq, healthcare, and public morality, among others. Thirteen percent are concerned about immigration and illegal aliens. But less than one percent are worried about race relations/racism. So theres no national dialogue about race. As a result, its become primarily the responsibility of commentators-of-color to point out that for many Americans the notion of liberty and justice for all is an empty promise.
The second event is the genocide in the Sudan region of Darfur, where 400,000 have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes (more than the population of Utah). Despite the solemn pledge of never again taken after discovery of the Holocaust, the United States and the other nations of the first world have a woeful record with regards to genocide. We did intervene to save white folks in Bosnia, where 200,000 were killed. But, nobodys talking about the US getting involved in Darfur; its seen as somebody elses problem, the U.N. or the African Union. The failure of the US to take seriously whats going on in Darfur is another face of racism let those folks take care of their own.
The third event is the crisis facing Americas black men. In March the The New York Times published an important article about the depth and breadth of this problem. Three statistics jumped out of the studies cited. The first is that in 2004, an astonishing 50 percent of black men in their 20s who lacked a college education were jobless. The second is that among black dropouts in their late 20s, more are in prison on a given day 34 percent than are working 30 percent. Finally, about half of all black men in their late 20s and early 30s who did not go to college are noncustodial fathers, fathers who quite often do not support their children.
America needs to face the fact that Jim Crow hasnt gone away. Its just mutated into a less obvious form of racism than segregated public facilities. Now its about access to the fundamentals of human dignity, like adequate education and healthcare including psychological services. Services that should be guaranteed to all citizens but are not.
Americans used to believe in the notion of the common good. The idea that I am my brothers keeper and my sisters keeper. Somewhere in the last few years this notion got replaced by a simpler maxim, Whats in it for me?
The Bush Administration epitomizes this maxim and, as a result, has pulled America into the toilet. As we struggle to get out we can either do it as individuals or relearn how to work together. We can either ignore our problems, like racism, or face them and build a new community. We can either discard democracy or embrace it.