A couple of weeks ago, in the wake of Ralph Nader’s widely reported remarks, I decided to take the plunge and discuss race issues in America, and within the contexts of both this election and Nader’s remarks. Full disclosure: I am white. But I think I have some unique insights to offer into some of what is going on this year, because, as I wrote a few weeks ago:
…it probably helps to be familiar with black culture if you are white, and white culture if you are black. I spent a significant chunk of my childhood as a minority white in a Louisville projects, and a lot of my family members are black or mixed-racial. That’s the kind of experience-through-osmosis I’m talking about. It’s probably more accurately defined as poor culture, the most integrated culture in America.
As you can see from comments in that thread, I’m not always right about it, but I’m never going to learn if I don’t even try. And so I also wrote about how difficult it is to talk about race issues in America as a white person:
It really is difficult in America to talk about race issues if you are white. There are reasons for that, including the fact that white people aren’t yet good at it because they don’t have much practice at it. It’s pretty much a taboo subject to really try to analyze as if you have any authority. And as a result of this inarticulate attempt at participating in the discussion, as white people, we run the risk of offending black people just by claiming any insight into the issues at all. That sometimes leads to being called racist, which is an especially hurtful, if somewhat understandable, charge to make, especially against someone who has actively worked for or supported Civil Rights, and has traditionally seen themselves as sympathetic to, and willing to do something about, the complaints of black Americans.
With all of that as the continuing caveat in our bold attempts at discussing this issue, I’d like to talk about something that I think is coming, and that I don’t think people are giving much thought to yet. If we don’t consider this early and often, we will end up with egg on our face over it, I believe. Consider this the warning bell, then.
Generally speaking, I think it is unwise to discuss racial and gender issues together in the context of this primary season. I think it unnecessarily conflates the two, because there were two entirely separate dynamics in play. The fact of sexism hurt Hillary Clinton, of that there can be no legitimate doubt. However, the fact of racism benefited Obama, and I think that is equally beyond doubt. So how did we get to this place where those things could happen? The fights for female and black freedom began in the same places in America, at roughly the same times. And yet, black men won the vote 60 years before women did. The Civil Rights movement might have started out as a black movement, but within a decade that movement had spread to encompass human rights for a large and disparate number of oppressed people, though no group was as large as the women’s movement.
At a certain point, the women’s movement eclipsed the black Civil Rights movement, and that’s why legislation on behalf of black issues slowed down and legislation on behalf of women’s issues picked up as we entered the 1970s. Had it not been for that women’s movement, you could have forgotten about the right to an abortion in this country. And the ERA failed to pass by a hair, thanks to folks like Phyllis Schlafly, who made it okay for men of privileged to protect theirs.
So if women had the momentum coming out of the 1960s, how did we end up here again? How is it that, pitting the identity causes against each other, black history seems to have (for now) won again?
As a teacher, the answer seems obvious to me. While not the sole factor, a major factor in the reality that Americans of all colors are far more sympathetic to racial sensitivity than they are to sexual and gender sensitivity is education. Two things happened in that wake from the 60s: Feminism experienced a backlash on many levels, most notably the political, and black Civil Rights enjoyed a legislative Renaissance of sorts that allowed their story to be placed in the schools and the public consciousness. Those two things are the reasons for such laws as the national holiday that is Martin Luther King’s birthday, Black History Month, and such pathetic realities as the fact that “welfare reform” is even a term.
If you have kids, or are a teacher yourself, you know what I’m talking about. Every January for, it often seems like, all of January, it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. all day every day. Every social studies and history lesson focuses on that struggle, every English assignment’s subject is of the man himself or the movement he led. Every other school has a play or a musical about his life during that month. Then, in February, during Black History Month, the whole thing is repeated, this time with black historical figures.
Did you even know? Where you even aware that March is Women’s History Month? Do your kids come home during that month, breathless, to tell you all about the lesson on Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or who Lucretia Mott was? Does your daughter come home to tell you how one day, when she grows up, she’ll be a Lucy Stoner? That she was positively inspired by the story of Emma Goldman? That thank god women like Alice Paul came before her to fight for her? Have you ever heard any child utter the name Betty Friedan?
Do you see now why we couldn’t compete? Yes, I believe the word you are stumbling for is indoctrination. For nearly 30 years American kids across the land have been indoctrinated to feel sympathetic towards, and be inspired by, black cultural struggles and issues. In their schools. Every year. I’m not opposed to it, and I’m not even remotely suggesting it’s wrong; I’m actually standing here in awe at what black folks have achieved with their sympathetic legislatures and armies of factually armed teachers. I’m a little envious.
But I am not kidding myself that the woman’s movement did anything to prevent that same thing from taking place for them. They tried to create that too. But the power structure found it much more expedient to point to the progress they were making in the black movement as a way to appease whole groups of every color, finding it much safer to respond to a 13% faction as opposed to a 51% faction. There it is for you. It’s about the math.
Now, that is not the half of it, and I’ve tried to keep this pretty simplified so people can follow where I’m going, which is into the very near future. Remember those 30 years? How many voters do you think the school systems in America produced during that time? Do you think it’s safe to say that half of todays voters have been exposed to the Narrative of Black History? By either living through the Civil Rights movement, or by the acculturation they received via the education system? Three quarters? I don’t know, and I’m too lazy to look it up. But it’s a HUGE number, of that I am sure.
Now, follow that logic right to the night of August 28th, Mile High Stadium, the 45th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech. 75,000 people in attendance, this show will be broadcast by every single major news cable outlet, by the commercial networks, and who knows who else. Picture the next day, the editorials you’ll see, the swelling chests, the boastful, ironic pride that a man with bad character will have been nominated based on the color of his skin. But that’s not how they’ll tell it. It’ll be the other way around. And can you guess who’s going to love that? That’s right–30 years worth of indoctrinated voters. Why will they love it? Because it is the continuation of an old, beloved tale.
You watch for it. If we don’t get movement at the Convention, we’re going to have to fight that monster for November. And if your feelings are hurt because you’ve been called a racist now, well sister, brother, you better prepare yourself, because you ain’t seen nothing yet. Nothing invokes the mob more than when they feel you are robbing of them of history in the making, because that is the national bedtime story, and everybody wants their scene in it, and they want the next chapter yesterday.
There are other factors at play, and I suppose we’ll get to them in the coming weeks, but I thought I should warn you, because I haven’t seen this impending phenomenon discussed anywhere else.
I’ll be slowing down on blogging in the coming days. Busy with a move, I won’t have as much time, and I’ve been blogging pretty furiously for over a week now, and I think I’m flying too fast these days. I’m getting comments on things I wrote weeks ago, so I’ll be taking the hint and letting things sit for a while so they can be digested.