Monday, January 15, 2007

Honor His Legacy

I was raised in a diverse household. My dad complained loudly about Mexicans and had his token black friend, but never considered himself racist. It must have been Oscar (a great guy,) his token black friend and the fact he didn’t feud with our next door Mexican neighbors or the Cubans across the street that led him to this belief. I’ve no clue. He said he picked up his opinions in the army.

My mom, on the other hand, believes in equality and diversity. She taught us to question values and action, not skin colour or birthright. Which is pretty good when you consider my mother comes from a formerly aristocratic, upper crust family of lost wealth and position. She is the reason I believe, so strongly, in equality. My father is the basis as to why I stand firm on those beliefs.

So you can see, I saw first hand a battle of wills and beliefs right at home. My mother urged us to make friends of all based on themselves; my dad had a VERY loud cow when a black friend of mine asked me to the prom. We moved six months later to Oregon, I can honestly say it had nothing to do with David.

I remember the day Kennedy was shot, both of them. I remember the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. I remember the day Anwar Sadat was shot. I have (to this day) no understanding of how someone could hate so much, they would kill for it, I now know it was fear, ignorant, hateful fear, but I still don’t understand it. These men who worked to make the world a better place, whether it was in just their own corner of the world or on a larger platform, paid for their beliefs, and today most of them are honored for their groundbreaking vision.

I know my position won't be accepted by most in a positive nature, but I have to ask, how would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. view affirmative action? Isn’t it a principal that stands in direct opposition of everything this great visionary stood for? And what is so affirmative about that action? Doesn’t affirmative action promote racial discord? Doesn’t affirmative action promote a division of races? Doesn’t affirmative action promote segregation to an extent? True, not all programs that are promoted place black students in black only schools, but doesn’t it tell those students that they couldn’t have gotten there without affirmative action? What is so affirmative about that?

r. King said it so poignantly in his “I have a Dream” speech on that hot August afternoon in 1963,

“The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

We cannot walk alone. Wow. He noted that the black community was rising up, but that brothers all must link hands and as one walk to our free destiny together. Whites can not do that chained by hate. Blacks cannot do that chained by hate. Our destinies are entwined, and we can not move forward through the actions of hatred, fear, or segregation.

Honor diversity, all. God, thank you for the memory, vision, and wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus Christ (the first non-violent revolutionary – to quote Stephen Stills,) and those who have gone before and after to unite a nation (their nations) as one, not divided by race, sex, or religion, but by the brotherhood of man.



Anonymous said...

I think I know a bit of what you mean. I was raised in a house where class and racism were very real and expressed issues, and came out of it with extremely egalitarian convictions, though I put them away for a while. PLUS, I was in the military and understand the racism your father imbibed from it -- it's a very pragmatic kind that's hard to shake out of people, because there are some things that strongly reinforce it there.

In regard to affirmative action, I can see your argument, but there's a pretty compelling rationale, at least given how things are, behind affirmative action.

The whole point of affirmative action is based on the understanding that a history of lack of education, poverty, and very real and forceful barriers put around them has kept American black people from ever being able to compete.

It's truly hard to understand unless you've studied the history in some depth and felt the despair and fatalistic resignation they have consistently and justifiedly felt -- spent some time, for example, imagining with your heart's eyes what it would feel like to watch your father, who did rise out of the ghetto to create a business but was seen as a threat to white businesses, murdered by a terrifying group of white men for a trumped-up charge of raping a white woman (this happened a lot to "uppity" black people). It's really hard to "get it" without this sort of visceral understanding of how effectively they have been systematically, methodically kept from rising out of their low place in society.

After the civil war, when reconstruction failed and the promises to the freed slaves were abandoned, they were immediately impoverished and surrounded by fearful, angry, resentful white people in both the South and the North.

Many, of course, had to work for their past owners as sharecroppers, taking on debt to those same past owners that functioned just about the same in those circumstances as how things had been before. Except here the owner-sharecropper relationship freed the former slaveowners from any obligation whatsoever to their former slaves, so the treatment in some ways was worse without the old patriarchal restraints.

A hundred years later, 1965, and laws and extrajudicial groups (KKK, etc.) are still in place specifically keeping them "down," as it is said.

I'll cut it short and ask a simple question. All that and far more than I can write here, and is it truly fair to ask them to compete on a level playing field with those who have been constantly held above them, better educated, given better housing (even if only marginally so) and safer lives?

Looked at another way, there has been affirmative action for four hundred, five hundred years. That is exactly the problem. It has just worked the opposite way. Sure there are poor whites, but they were always above the blacks, and always fiercely hostile to them, enjoying the protection of law if they happened to lynch a few.

Now, some temporary laws are instituted to give them a leg up for a few decades. Is it fair to say that violates equality?

Modern affirmative action is a measure to help redress past wrongs that are still fully affecting people via poverty and ghettoization. It is a methodology to give a leg up to people who, because of past (and some present) institutions in this society, are so massively disadvantaged that they would never have a chance otherwise. They never got their "forty acres and a mule," and a great many were even put right back into debt to their former owners, after having had their labor stolen from them all their lives and nothing to show for it.

Poor, ignorant, fearful parents raise poor, ignorant, bitter children. The school systems, especially given the property tax-based educational systems that virtually ensure bad schools for the poor, did not and will not break the cycle. And it is a continuing cycle. How do we break it, then? Is it enough to merely say nonintervention keeps them putatively equal before the law, and then yet let the majority of them continue to be strained out of the system because they can't compete?

THAT all said, I don't think affirmative action is the best answer, and I don't think King would either. But this society and those who truly call the shots in it are not even close to willing to make the kind of changes to bring about real justice -- the changes King was really about. So, throwing them a few advantages is the least that can be done until the peaceful revolution King advocated can come about. But it IS sad and unfortunate that our goals have become so much more miserable than they had been then. We are in an age of pessimism and resignation.

It's a really difficult issue overall, and one difficult to wrap one's brain around. I happened to study it fairly intensively in different contexts, so it's very real for me. Plus, if it gives you any hint of my feelings about the issue, one of my sons is named after a famous and wonderfully inspirational abolitionist and radical -- Samuel Joseph May, Jr.

But, on a lighter note, this was a wonderful tribute to Dr. King. Thanks for sharing it, and I look forward to reading more of your blog!

Cele said...

Gluby, you totally rock. Thank you for the great, grounded comments. I have studied Black American history (to a point) and from a southern perspective you are so totally right on. I have a west coast ignorance of some of the hatred that is out there (and that is not to say race based hatred is solely in the south, it's not it seems just more concentrated there.) I can't begin to argue against your stance or facts.

My arguement (for anyone of any race, creed, or beginning) is you are what you make of yourself. Don't allow yourself to be catagorized by aiding the system. Fight as much as possible to stand on your own merit. Are there times when that is going to be nigh close to impossible? Yes, I realize it is.

I become discouraged when the race (or gender) card is played. Especially when I see people say it happened to them because they were a woman, purple, black, listened to rock n' roll, or they were whatever. Sometimes shit happens and it has nothing to do with catagories, it just happens. Other times it is based on hatred right from the get go. We need to learn to distinguish when, so that we know the wolf when he comes.

Together we will make a difference. Look at how far WE ALL have come in the days since Dr. King began laying the ground work for one American Society. There will always be hate, there will always be hold outs on both sides, but together, someday, we shall over come.

Gluby I look forward to more discussions with you. thank you I am honored.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Cele! Nice to write to you here!

Also, on the North/South/West thing, remember that Oregon constitutionally banned black people from its jurisdiction and had a very strong KKK. Urban Oregon's reputation as a "liberal" state is fairly new. California, likewise, passed the Chinese exclusionary laws. It's really not just a regional thing, and, indeed, it's arguable that racist southerners "hate" blacks less than a large number of northerners.

As has been said, the southern racist doesn't mind 'em living close as long as they don't get uppity. The northern racist doesn't mind 'em getting uppity as long as they don't live close.

I also had several black friends who became extremely discouraged in the face of northern racism and moved back to the south where at least they felt like they somewhat belonged.

It's cultural and irrational; to merely categorize it as some extreme "hate" removes our ability to understand how widespread it is. Most people who are mildly racist don't "hate" blacks -- they think of them as lesser people, just like a snobby lawyer may not hate the manual laborer but will think of him as a subordinate. Racism at its root is not hate, though it can lead to it; it is a belief in racial hierarchy.

Okay, enough soapboxing from me.

I'm in Eugene, by the way. :)

Cele said...

I did not know the constitutional banning, thank you. I had learned Oregon's KKK history back in high school - Siuslaw had a great Black history class, that proved to be a jump off for my inquisitiveness.

People were always shocked (many I'm sure thought I lied) when I would whip out my Oregon KKK tidbit. Okay so now I have to ask you...
What is your opinion of Abraham Lincoln?

You are very educational, thank you. So why are you looking for a job? How did you and Lemony get to Eugene? What a pretty city...well if you like cities.