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.