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.

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When It Isn’t About Race

I generally don’t pay attention to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, because there isn’t that much to pay attention to. He’s a prominent voice in the GOP establishment, but he’s been previously overlooked in favor of repeat presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann. There’s talk of him running in 2016, but my expectations of him getting into the primary and remaining there are low. The GOP leadership doesn’t need an establishment Republican from the Deep South, at least, not this election. And if Louisiana resident and American Conservative senior editor Rod Dreher has anything to say about it, Jindal has been far from the consummate governor, which weaken his chances at the outset.

But Jindal did do something noteworthy this week; he handled a would-be racial controversy with poise, something the GOP establishment is not especially well known for. There was a brief misunderstanding about which portrait was the “official” portrait of Governor Jindal. A liberal Twitter user tweeted a portrait of the governor that was loaned by an enthusiastic but possibly color-blind constituent, who painted the governor a few shades lighter. A flurry of outrage ensured. “OMG! They’re whitewashing Bobby Jindal!” It turned out that the portrait in question was not of the governor, and that Governor Jindal indeed knew he was not light-skinned.

Governor Jindal chose to reply with humor: “You mean I’m not white?” he joked. Ever the politician, he took his opportunity to criticize his opponents: “I think the left is obsessed with race,” he said. He dismissed the backlash about the portrait as “silly” and added that “the dumbest thing we can do is try to divide people by the color of their skin…We’re all Americans.”

Jindal is of Indian ancestry, and that fact has been almost entirely irrelevant to his political career and whatever ambitions he may harbor for 2016. He may have experienced racism in the past, and may experience it now. But being a person of color does not mean every situation you are in is embroiled in racism. Sometimes, it just isn’t about race. Not even for those of us who aren’t white. Strange, I know. But it’s true.

Identity Politics, The Patriarchy, and Love

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credit: youtube.com

Happy Holidays from the Libertarian Latina!  I hope everyone is enjoying time home with loved ones.

Last night I saw the film “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” with my family, and it was great, but it’s not the black film I want to talk about.  The upcoming film “Belle” tells the story of an illegitimate biracial woman who is raised with her father’s aristocratic English family.  She develops a relationships with a young lawyer with abolitionist ideals and the two begin to pressure the powers that be to end slavery in England.  The film is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who was the product of an affair between an African slave and and English sea captain.  She was raised in the house of her great uncle and was allowed certain household privileges (managing correspondence) but not others (eating with the family).  I cannot wait until this film comes out.  I will be first in line to see it.

My time as a liberal was uncomfortable for me, particularly when it came to racial and identity politics.  I’m a biracial woman who was fortunate enough to attend private school her whole life, and had parents who spoke Standard Mid-Atlantic English at home.  I learned African-American Vernacular English but never used it.  I don’t code switch.  I never have.  This created a rift between me and my fellow classmates of color and within the black and Hispanic communities writ large.  To belong to these communities meant speaking two languages: one in “polite company”, and the vernacular with friends and neighbors.  To speak only the former meant forfeiting your street cred.  It meant you were a sellout, an Uncle Tom.  And yet, to speak English “properly” drew raised eyebrows and intrigue: the unspoken conclusion was that I was not like the “others”, and was therefore a trusted ambassador of communities to which I did not culturally belong.  I have a sneaking suspicion that “Belle” is going to explore the theme of not fitting into a world of privilege and the struggle to find a place in society which has no blueprint for those of your “kind”.

So much of being a liberal in this country as a person of color seems to be centered around hating white people, especially white men, which I guess has some merit, given that black slaves were owned by white masters, and the Jim Crow South was framed by white people in positions of power.  But hating white men goes against my experience and was something I refused to do, further damaging my already negligible credibility with prominent liberals of color.  My second family is composed of my teachers, many of whom were white and male.  They taught me, but they also raised me.  They believed in my potential, recognized my talent, and interacted with me as a thinking person first, a woman of color second.  They validated my beauty and challenged me to think critically.  My intellectual identity and emotional independence is largely due to their positive influence.  Perhaps this is why I’m interested in political science, philosophy, and history instead of sociology, intersectionality, and diaspora studies.  This is not to say that I don’t believe in oppression and injustice.  It just means that I believe these issues are more complex than “Us vs. Them”.  Hating someone who doesn’t look like you, whether you’re the cultural hegemon or not, only perpetuates ignorance and intolerance.

Racism and ignorance exist, but they’re not limited to white people.  Some of the most open-minded people I know are white; some of the most racist bigots I have ever met have had colored skin.  I refuse to dislike a group of people to gain admission to a community because of our matching skin pigmentations.  My community is one with whom I share interests, and ideals, and goals.  We are brought together by respect and bound by love.  Those things transcend skin color, race, ethnicity, culture, and even language.  No political agenda should trump being human.  It often does, and that’s a shame.  It means different interest groups make conflicting sets of demands and fighting to the death to advance their agendas by one inch, which is petty and counterproductive.  Working together is the only way we can achieve anything worth having, not by protecting our bean patches from people who don’t look like us.

That’s all for now.  See you again soon.