A Less Perfect Union

Yesterday afternoon, President Obama delivered a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, the first in a series of marches that brought national attention to the denial of African-Americans in the Deep South. The Selma marches applied the necessary political pressure to pass the Voting Rights Act, an enormous victory for the civil rights movement. The anniversary comes on the heels of the release of the Department of Justice’s sobering report on the investigation conducted in Ferguson in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s death. The Department of Justice found evidence proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the police department in Ferguson unfairly targets African-Americans, using racial slurs, violating constitutional rights, and fabricating charges. Given the evidence, it’s no wonder resentment and distrust seethe beneath the surface in Ferguson and productive, honest communication seems difficult if not impossible.

These two events present an uncomfortable juxtaposition. One one hand, we wish to see this anniversary as a benchmark, as a way of congratulating ourselves on how far we have progressed in terms of race relations and civil rights. But we can’t. I don’t care how lofty the rhetoric is, the progress we made is not nearly enough to pat ourselves on the back for even a moment. If anything, our more perfect union that our forefathers envisioned may be in a decline. Fifty years after Selma, the deaths of unarmed black men call out for answers, protesters fill the streets, and cities burn. That isn’t progress. That’s deterioration.

When I first wrote about Ferguson, I said that African-Americans need to get their heads out of their asses. That’s true, but so does the rest of America. We have a serious race problem in this country, beginning in black homes. The black family is fractured and splintering further: 70 percent of African-American babies are born out of wedlock*, fast-tracking them to a life of poverty, crime, and premature death. That’s the ugly reality. We can lobby for better education policies, and we should. We can lobby for better housing policies, and we should. We can lobby for prison reform, and we must. But the single thing we can advocate for, that will reduce poverty, help African-Americans achieve economic stability and provide a better future for their children is marriage.This is why I am a conservative. This is why I am a Christian. We need a higher authority to restore order to our broken system, and that order comes from God. The Republican party’s views on reducing barriers (i.e. cutting bureaucratic tape and taxes) to make it easier for people to enter the labor force is exactly what a population disproportionately affected by incarceration needs. But first, the violence must end. And to do that, we must listen. Not give in to rage or bias, but really, truly listen.

Racism isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem, and doesn’t have a Republican or Democratic solution. My former boss, editor of The American Conservative paired up with liberal politician Ralph Nader and discussed their mutual skepticism of corporate capitalism in an interview for Yes! magazine. I read the whole thing like a famished child devouring a crust of bread. You should, too. They don’t make ’em like this anymore, folks: people with opposed political ideologies finding their points of convergence, not engaging in a public shouting match. A union is just that: coming together. Our union happens to be founded on our shared belief system that we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. This is the foundation of our justice system. And yet, Jim Crow laws stood for nearly a hundred years. And yet racism still somehow manages to rear its ugly head. And we let it.

There are no immediate or simple answers to what seems like a simple problem. But we can’t keep pretending things are better and will improve when all the evidence indicates the opposite. We may never repair the damage caused by slavery and Jim Crow. But the impossible has never been something that deterred Americans. We can have a society where everyone, no matter the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their gender, their religion, or sexual orientation is treated equally under the law. It will take longer than we want it to. It will be challenging. But if we commit to listening to each other–not spewing rhetoric, not plotting revenge, not chalking up events to stereotypes–maybe we can find a way to stop the chaos.

I believe we can have a more perfect union. But only if we interact with our fellow citizens with respect and compassion and are patient–with each other, with the process, and with ourselves.

God bless you, and God bless America.

*The article I linked to is a very interesting piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is arguing the exact opposite thing that I am, that black women (especially married black women) who are bearing fewer children is not necessarily indicative of a cultural decline. But the reasons black women are forgoing marriage may be different from those of white women. White women are likelier to go to college and complete their education with the expectation of meeting someone they deem eligible to marry in that whole process. With the rate of incarceration of black males being as high as it is, black women may be forgoing marriage because of a lack of eligible black men.

Advertisements

Does Speaking Standard English Dilute Blackness?

“Are you white?”

The enquirer was an eight-year-old boy at my summer day camp fourteen years ago, who had stared at me for a solid minute before launching his query. His question unsettled me. The same week a fellow camper, with whom I did not get along, excluded me from a conversation with the phrase, “This is black people’s talk.” I realized at the tender age of eleven that my blackness (or Hispanic-ness, for that matter) was less defined by the color of my skin than by the way I spoke. In that scenario and many others, speaking standard American English around black people was an affront. It was perceived as both distancing myself from my heritage while attempting to ingratiate myself with a group of people that were responsible for the marginalization of my comrades. Not having African-American argot as a default linguistic setting was both a betrayal and a rejection of my community.

My inability to code switch–speak African-American argot around black people, standard English in formal settings–has been the most salient quality that has brought my blackness into question over the years. I’ve gotten comments ranging from, “your college application reads like a white person’s” to “you talk like a white girl, but you ain’t white.” I can recognize the expression of muted surprise when I open my mouth, but I’m so used to it I barely notice it anymore (it’s also 2014, and there are a lot of articulate brown people, thank goodness.)The piece in Slate today is a belated apology of sorts: we’re sorry that we’ve judged and stigmatized black people for speaking a dialect of English. But the truth is, no matter what the color of your skin is, dialects of English, whether from the South Bronx or Appalachia, aren’t welcome in mainstream America. When it comes to public speaking, job interviews, or career advancement, speaking standard English is a cultural expectation and a professional requirement. That’s not a normative statement; it doesn’t mean that there aren’t working people who speak with accents or that we should discriminate against people who don’t speak standard English at home. That’s a separate issue altogether. I’m talking about whether or not speaking standard English as a black person detracts from your blackness. And if you see blackness as a cultural identity as much as a legal or hereditary one, then it seems to. But this wasn’t always the case.

Both of my parents were raised in working-class homes and spoke standard English in their respective households. I suspect that it is because although none of my grandparents were wealthy, all of them believed speaking standard English was a way of respecting yourself and others. We don’t live in that world anymore. An allegiance to a dialect is now more important that appearing to be a sellout. Speaking standard English is not a measure of my intelligence; it’s a measure of my education. And my education is not a betrayal of my heritage. I don’t lose “blackness” because I speak Standard English. My melanin concentration isn’t contingent on correctly placed modifiers.

But, unfortunately, that’s not how a lot of the black community sees it. If you like Taylor Swift, read “colonialist” history books and “talk like a white girl”, then your blackness card is revoked; at minimum, you’re on probation. It’s sad to see a population that endured so much hatred and exclusivity practicing the similar tactics on members on their own community. Too much of blackness today is dependent on the music you listen to, the clothes you wear, and the way you speak. The same intolerance of non-standard English in the boardroom is practiced in the ghettoes.

There’s a line between celebrating your heritage and championing ignorance. My grandparents moved to New York from the South and Puerto Rico to give their children a better start in life, and that included speaking English well. My allegiance is to them, not  fitting in with hip-hop culture that has become synonymous with blackness.

What do you all think? Should we be accepting of other dialects of English in the workplace and other places? Is speaking standard English a betrayal of the black community?

Friday Wrap-Up

Hello Friends,

First things first: thank you all for your support this week. As I mentioned earlier, Monday’s post generated a surge in traffic, and I picked up about 20 new Twitter followers. It was one of the most controversial pieces I’ve written in a while, but the response has been positive and encouraging. It’s meant a lot to me, and it was the push I needed to start posting regularly. So thanks again.

Secondly, if you like this blog, consider making a donation to my journalistic alma mater, The American Conservative. They’ve had a great deal of influence on my thoughts and writing since my conversion to the dark side, and helped me make the decision to cut ties with the Democratic party in the first place. They provided me with a platform that reached a lot of people, and remain a publication committed to open-minded thinking that defies any party line or doctrine. Freedom of speech isn’t free, and it’s made possible by readers like you. They deserve to keep up their good work.

Lastly, a few housekeeping things. Starting next Friday, you’ll be able to subscribe to this blog by email, so every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you’ll get a new post in your inbox if you want. In addition, this post will be reserved for news highlights domestically and abroad. I considered writing a bit about the Scottish independence referendum, but I’ve got no real opinion on it and the news coverage has ranged from understated to underwhelming (short story even shorter: they’re staying with the UK). But I have a good deal of interest and experience in foreign affairs, so keep an eye out for internationally related posts.

Enjoy your weekend,

Marjorie

The Winds of Change

Hello friends,

The last couple days have been hectic on this blog. I got a lot of new Twitter followers and many new folks stopped by to read Monday’s post. Since Monday evening it was republished twice, and the response I received has generally been positive. I anticipated devoting today’s post to an apologia, but it seems that that won’t be necessary.

The winds of change are upon us. The growing consensus in Ferguson is that the local Democratic politicians are not cutting it. In a town-hall style meeting in Clayton earlier today, many frustrated black citizens voiced their concerns, and the charged atmosphere suggested that it was only the beginning. Black people everywhere are looking for an alternative that is truly relevant and lasting. I think we can expect an exodus of large numbers of blacks from the Democratic party within the next several months leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

So, what does that mean for this blog?

It means I have to write more. People of color (black, Asian, Native American, what have you) need to know there is another way besides the liberal narrative of the left and the myopic aggression of the right. There is a community of conservatives of color out here, and we need to be more visible so that those who are wrestling with internal conflict need not feel so alone. It’s important to connect with like-minded individuals to move the debate forward. Black Republican did it for me, and it’s only right for me to pass it on.

I will be posting, from here on in, three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This is a way for me to be accountable to you, my new audience, and a way for you to know when to check this space for new posts. It’s time for me to step up, and it’s time for you all to get decent, consistent content. I look forward to interacting with you all on here and on Twitter. In the coming weeks I’ll continue to tweak the blog and set up a commenting policy.

Yours in political arms,

Marjorie