Is This It? What’s It?

So here we are again. Another crisis that is supposed to have an opportunity hidden somewhere in it. But, again, what is ‘it’?
It is just impossible to address the current crisis without reviewing the last 233 crises….. you know, like Reconstruction, the rebirth of the Klan, the imposition of the Black Codes, Plessy v. Ferguson, Tulsa, Rosewood, lynch law, Brown v. Board of Education, Ol’ Miss, Little Rock High School, Rodney King, Martin Luther King, Ferguson again, and now Floyd joins the august list of victims of lynching-by-cop, even to the pre-lynching beating and then the strangulation, not by rope but by knee. 

Now what? White people protest, Black people protest, Native Americans protest, Hispanics protest, Muslims protest, Taoists protest, Germans protest, and Trumpers give not an inch. Fox no doubt points to nine looters and says, “There’s your protest.” I haven’t seen Fox but no doubt will in the aftermath as MSNBC, CNN and other news organizations excerpt egregious lies and distortions from Fox News for our viewing pleasure. To point this up, I just happened to click on a old C-SPAN video of three prominent conservatives having a discussion about conservatism and they led off with how the protesters do not know what they are protesting for. Civil rights, the several wars we’ve had since 1950, Nixon, Trump, Occupy Wall Street, none of these people know what they are protesting? My God, it must feel good to be that smug.

That reminds me of my question to Judge Mukasey who wanted matters to stay out of courts and let cultural change decide controversies. I pointed out to him that when I, a White, married my wife, a Black, in 1964, our marriage was illegal in 16 states. If the Lovings had not taken their conviction on miscegenation charges to court, all the way to the S.C., what should I have done to protect my wife and me in case we traveled in one of those 16 states, wait for the culture to change?  Shack up with my wife until I could legally marry her? Find another wife more acceptable to the racists? Never travel outside of Arizona? What? Judge Mukasey’s judicious answer was that nowadays Blacks and Whites in Selma walk around hand-in-hand. What exactly did that answer?

Here is my challenge. To me, the good judge simply did not give a shit about us – the best case scenario – or he himself views interracial marriage with “skepticism” – the more likely. The judge probably was not hostile to Blacks or even interracial marriage; he just knew it did not affect him personally but any number of people in positions of power were sensitive to it or depended on people – voters – who were sensitive to it. So why stir things up for this unusual situation – in 1964 – of a White guy wanting to marry a Black woman? What makes them so important?

The notion of individual rights being equal seems to have slipped right by him along with the 14th amendment. So let me go this way, the GOP way: a salesman has to travel across state lines to make money; the Constitution grants, in the 10th Amendment, the Federal government the right to control and therefore interfere in state laws that interfere with this commerce (the Commerce clause); therefore, to tell the salesman that he cannot advance his business by staying in a motel overnight because he is Black or in a wheel chair or is a woman or any other spurious reason is a violation of his rights and the Federal government, under the Commerce Clause, is authorized to interfere and secure his right.

The problem is this: there are large numbers of people who do not regard these reasons as spurious. Having a Black stay at your motel may offend other customers; having a guest in a wheel chair imposes some inconvenience on the motel; and a woman staying in her own room suggests improper goings-on. This is the mind of the conservative. Just review the rules of Bob Jones University. Do we ignore these Americans who take my example objections seriously or do we accommodate them?

The tinkerers, those who approach societal problems as engineering problems, would reduce all actors to a common denominator like “purpose” or “status” or “role.” Then everyone would get a slip of paper with his status or role or purpose written on it and would then know how to behave and what to expect. The libertarians would just throw the entire deck of cards in the air or sweep the pieces off the chess board onto the floor and see what surfaces – may the best person win and I know who that is. Those who have a cause or a goal will drive toward that with blinders on. Some will rely on Daddy’s money. At any rate, no one really does this in such a simple, straight-forward manner.

That leaves us with a mess. My Trumper neighbor does not know why those people in Washington can’t just sit down together and hash out their problems. I’ve tried to have more conversations with him but he is not often available.  I even made a long list of questions for him but he remains certain that people could just work these problems out. He does not recognize that working them out may involve accepting some outcomes he does not like. I believe that is b/c, like many conservatives (again, using this term to refer to Tea Party and Freedom Caucus types, not George Will or Max Boot types), he sees his view as so obviously correct he cannot imagine any reasonable person having a different perspective. As one Evangelical said of his views shared by no one outside the Evangelical community, “It’s just common sense.”

But now the conservatives have succeeded. They finally have their George Wallace but mixed with Biff Tannen of Back to the Future. Of all the bullies cited from movies, many of them had a glimmer of intelligence or purpose; that’s not Trump. When Trump sits on the toilet, he forgets why he’s there.

So my concern is not for a sad man whose parents did a number on him but for the millions of Americans who could vote for him. As someone said, Trump’s racism may not have been theirs but neither was it a game changer. There is something flawed lurking in our population and it has many names: White Supremacy, rabid nationalism, religious fanaticism, patriarchy, a death wish. It is not exceptionalism. Our exceptionalism lies in our institutions, not in our genes, not in our people. We are like people everywhere, with human psychology, human bodies. human strengths and weaknesses. Our culture is hardly unified and never has been – read Albion’s Seed, American Nations, the recent The Soul of America, but we adhered by our finger tips to a common creed that any immigrant can swear to and become an American. It is just that about one third of our country does not buy that.

For them, Americans are people like themselves. That means that Italians in New Jersey can feel just like  Scots-Irish in Arkansas. How the Irish became White may be a trope that strikes a lot of Irish here as odd but that just means they don’t know their own history. You would think the carnage in Northern Ireland a few decades ago would have pointed out to the Irish that the Scots-Irish did not see them as like themselves. But that is the beauty of America, a despised Mick can start talking like an Arkansas Good Ol’ Boy and become White and they can both despise the Blacks. My grandfather changed his name from Baratta to Barrett to sound Irish so the Irish foreman would call his name for work. My dad spoke Italian. He learned to discriminate among Blacks who came to his hotel, accepting the NAACP types and turning others away.

At some point someone drops out of that. Is it education? A different, non-ethnic neighborhood? An integrated school or playing sports on integrated teams. “Integrated teams” sounds quaint, something out of the 70s when high school sports teams began to racially integrate and great drama ensued. Lots of good movies came out of those confrontations but I think my granddaughter would have no more understanding of the point of it than young adults of color I worked with in the 70s understood the movie about prejudice against a guy named Kowalski – “but he’s White!” they’d yell. But he’s Polish! I’d yell back and describe the little town in Ohio I grew up which was divided between the immigrants and the WASPs with four Black families in the middle. What’s a WASP? Funny.

Sticking a microphone in the face of these protesters and getting spontaneous expressions of their motivations would be a peek into what journalists call the changing face of America. The crowds themselves do not correspond to the Black crowds of protesters in big cities nor to the White college crowds in the universities nor to Hispanic field workers marching down rutted rural roads. They are heterogeneous as hell. Just look. (If I had time I’d look at Fox News to see if they are showing these crowds close up or are they just showing late night looters)

June 18, 2020 It’s been two weeks since I wrote the above. The protests are still going on and another Black man has been murdered by the police on camera. I wondered how long the peace was going to last since Breonna Taylor. Three months. Today I read a couple of provocative articles, one by Mona Charen in The Bulwark, on how she has come around to seeing the imbalance in policing and Black people.

July 2, 2020 Now it’s later and stuff is still going on. A year old, heart-breaking killing of a young man who reminds me of my grandson. God! What do these officers see when they look at a Black nerd? One of Fox News’ thugs, I guess.

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