Dr. King’s Long Road

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.“
– The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I want to repeat this piece from five years ago exactly as it was then.  Much is still true, even in this much darker moment of despair.  We have a long road, and we are making progress.  It’s slow, but it is true.  The next generation will definitely do better.

At this time every year we have the same kind of conversation around the dinner table. My kids are growing up in a different world, one even more thoroughly defined by the struggles and triumphs of Dr. King’s generation than mine was.

But as they grow older, they see the work left to do more plainly. It is disheartening and difficult to watch those who once thought that the old black and white news film of dogs and firehoses was a document of a black and white history – a story of races and realities laid bare for history to pass its judgement. Now that they are in school they’ve seen and heard what racism is. The struggle is still alive, and every year more than just black and white.

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It’s All About Racism

As a movement boils up into the streets and our consciousness, guns are the issue of the moment in America. The rest of the world looks on with amazement, not understanding how it got this far in the first place. Why do Americans love guns?

Why, indeed, do we have so many unusual problems in America which are not shared by other developed nations? Why don’t we have a reliable social safety net? Or a health care system of some kind? What is it that gives the United States the color of a developing nation?

Ah, yes, color. It’s about race. Racism is the poison that affects every single public debate in this nation one way or another. White people may think that they never feel the sting of racism, but they do. We all do. We are, actually, one people – but dividing us up by race is the original sin, the disease at the center of all other problems.

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Institutional Racism

For Dr. King’s Day, we have to acknowledge there is a war on between races.  It is a war which can only tear this nation apart, as it has done for centuries.  This,from 2016, is on how we have to engage it.

My thesis is this: there is nothing more important to the future of our nation than ending racism, particularly institutional racism. This has become a desperate matter of survival for far too many people when it comes to the issue of police killings. These tragedies happen disproportionately to minorities largely because of racism.

Yet the problem goes far beyond that. There is not a single issue in this nation which does not ultimately become polarized and frozen by race. Much of the resistance to government intervention and assistance comes down to a belief that “They” are getting the benefits – the mysterious “other” that is easily blamed for everything. It prevents us from having a useful discussion about “Us”, a free and united people ready to tackle the changes of our world bravely and directly.

But let’s stay with police killings for a moment. Let’s talk about how we get from where we are to a world where no cringes in fear when the disco lights and sirens blare, a world where Black Lives Matter. Let’s talk about how complex issues with hardened battle lines are taken on so that we can get past the problem. Let’s talk about tactics, or how a battle is won.

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Keep the Faith

CNN was on in the background, the sound turned off. It didn’t matter, however, because the heat of the discussion came through in vivid colors all the same. It’s all bad, it’s all hot, it’s all gonna burn down.

With the sound off and other distractions around me, however, it was easy to find some kind of hope. People passed by the noise and hardly registered it all in the hotel lobby. Life went on. Life will go on, once this nonsense is all over in a month. What will go down then?

The short answer is that America will be the same, but America will never be the same. Trump and his people more or less promised us all along that they would burn it all down and they will. We live in a different nation now, one which will have to reboot somehow from the ashes of what is left of civil discourse. Following a strong repudiation of Trump this might not be a bad thing.

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Ending Institutional Racism

My thesis is this: there is nothing more important to the future of our nation than ending racism, particularly institutional racism. This has become a desperate matter of survival for far too many people when it comes to the issue of police killings. These tragedies happen disproportionately to minorities largely because of racism.

Yet the problem goes far beyond that. There is not a single issue in this nation which does not ultimately become polarized and frozen by race. Much of the resistance to government intervention and assistance comes down to a belief that “They” are getting the benefits – the mysterious “other” that is easily blamed for everything. It prevents us from having a useful discussion about “Us”, a free and united people ready to tackle the changes of our world bravely and directly.

But let’s stay with police killings for a moment. Let’s talk about how we get from where we are to a world where no cringes in fear when the disco lights and sirens blare, a world where Black Lives Matter. Let’s talk about how complex issues with hardened battle lines are taken on so that we can get past the problem. Let’s talk about tactics, or how a battle is won.

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Racists Anonymous

Not many years ago, it was fashionable to say that racism was dead. “We live in a post-racial society now,” many people said, “And we don’t have to worry about that any longer.” Many white people, that is, said that. Non-whites knew perfectly well that racism has always been the disease at the core of our nation. The hurtful words were confined to private conversations and public dog-whistles of code didn’t fool anyone kept down and apart by racism.

With the rising voices of racism in the last year no one says that anymore. “At least,” in the words of Mike Yard, “We know who the racists are now.” The First Amendment does work. But for all the pain this open racism causes, are we any closer to getting past it? Only if openly acknowledging our racism is the first step towards healing.

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Racism

The United States is still an amazing nation which attracts millions of people every year who want a better life. What they find when they come here, however, has to cause some dismay. As open as our society is it still has barriers, lines drawn in stark black and white. Racism remains at the core of nearly every aspect of public life.

Racism isn’t just a part of our culture – it seeps into everything. A discussion of public policy eventually degrades into “those people” who “take from the system”, a series of code words carefully intoned now that openly racist language has been purged from polite conversation. This year a certain demagogue has inflamed that speech into a violent public melee, and it horrifies us. Is this really America in 2016?

Yes, it is. Racism is at the core of everything. And we don’t know how to deal with it.

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