Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Mr. Gorbachev...Tear Down This.......Statue?

That sound you hear is another statue, honoring a member or members of the Confederacy, hitting the ground. It was pulled down after having stood for over one hundred years because it offended some people to have to look at it; reminding them of a time when the United States was divided politically, racially, culturally and emotionally.  BTW, in case you hadn't noticed, we still are.

Of the more than 1503 public monuments and memorials to the Confederacy, more than 718 are monuments and statues. Nearly 300 monuments and statues are in Georgia, Virginia, or North Carolina alone. The # Black Lives Matter movement have all of these Confederate symbols in their sights and, apparently, will not be satisfied until they have all been eradicated from the public landscape. 

One question is, should this be allowed to continue?  Some of these removals are sanctioned and approved by local and state authorities who have every right to do so.  Some of these removals have even been approved by a majority of the electorate.  Even better. But, if statues are being hauled down and/or destroyed by people operating independently of authorized sanction, well, that sounds a bit like vandalism and lawlessness. There are two sides to this argument and here is what some people say to make a point:

• Some people are held responsible for things that happened before they were born, and other people are not held responsible for what they are doing right now.

Obviously, this phrase is being adopted by all of those who acknowledge no personal responsibility for a time when slavery was alive and well in our country and negatively impacting millions of minorities, mostly African-Americans. Not all of these people are bigots and racists, but most are angry that these symbols of their heritage are being defaced and destroyed.  They feel like this inappropriately denies and revises history, as ugly as it may have been.

The opposing side portray these statues and monuments as symbols of a racist, white supremacist society that no longer has a place in our country.  These people acknowledge that the evil of slavery was supported by our forefathers and, in some cases, our relatives fought to preserve a system of prejudice and injustice. They have no problem with removing these symbols in an attempt to demonstrate unity, equality and political correctness.

I can see both sides of the argument.  On the one hand, I agree that the Confederacy represents a dark period in American history. I, for one, am certainly not proud of that part of our American heritage. If people living and working in an area, local or state, no longer want those statues and monuments in their communities and vote, by referendum or otherwise, to remove them, that is their right. It does not, however, change history and the blight of slavery. And, I do not believe that defacing or removing these symbols by vandals, unruly mobs and those operating outside the law should be allowed.  And, the perpetrators should be punished.

In Stone Mountain, Georgia there is an enormous rock relief, the largest bas-relief in the world, whose carving depicts three Confederate figures, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  It is larger than Mt. Rushmore and quite a site to see.  It is also the subject of widespread controversy, with some wanting to have it removed and some wanting to preserve this amazing sculpture.  Since Thomas Jonathon “Stonewall” Jackson is my great, great, great uncle from my paternal grandmother’s side of the family, I personally would like to see it preserved, not to represent the Confederacy (or racism or bigotry or white supremacy) but to honor a brave and fearless leader, however misguided his cause, and to preserve a unique work of art.

As I said in my initial post, none of this (racism, bigotry, etc.) changes until the heart of humankind is changed and, in my opinion, that is not dependent on whether there is a statue of Robert E. Lee on horseback residing in the town square of Podunk Hollow, Jawja.


Friday, June 19, 2020

Making Amends for Slavery

"Our country is so divided."  You hear that a lot lately.  In politics, it is a fact, not fiction.  Republicans vs. Democrats, conservatives vs. liberals.  If one side says it is “white” the other claims it is “black”. (I’m not talking about skin color but perhaps that phrase will come under attack one day and be stricken from literature like Robert E. Lee statues are being hauled off pedestals across the south).

Of course, we have always been a politically stagnant country.  Stuck in the two party system there have only been a handful of 20th/21st Century independent parties; including the Prohibition Party, the Libertarian Party, the Green Independent Party, and the Constitution Party, to name a few.  Interestingly, in the 1900 election, the Prohibition Party presidential candidate, John G. Wooley, got a whopping 1.5 % of the vote.  In 2016, the Libertarian party’s nominee, Gary Johnson, got a fairly impressive 3.2 % of the popular vote.  Not bad for someone who no one remembers as the two major party candidates sucked all of the air and airtime out of the election space.

BTW, if you would like to see a women finally become president, you have an opportunity in 2020. Vote for the Libertarian candidate, Jo Jorgenson.  What? You never heard of her?  Check out:  I am not promoting her candidacy, but she does have a fairly balanced agenda, being fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Don’t you think we need a new voice of reason to calm the storm of political division and animosity in America? GoJo!

The divisions that permeate our populous go much deeper than political party affiliations. Today, the whole topic of racial injustice has people coming down on both sides of the fence, regardless of their politics.  Millions of people are rising up to support the #Black Lives Matter movement.  They are taking on the complex and thorny issues of prejudice, bigotry, white supremacy, and racial and economic inequalities. These are all issues that, for the past century, have fostered dozens of pieces of legislation passed in an effort to level the playing field for minorities.  However, as I have said before, the laws exist, but the enforcement is maculated, at best, and the change in human hearts, which is required for real progress, is still in its infancy.  Some of us are struggling to become toddlers. Others don’t care to grow and change at all.

So many things are circulating on social media these days that it is doing nothing but muddying the waters and causing further divisions.  So, I thought I would take one of these hotly debated posts and attempt to address both side of the issue in the pursuit of clarity.  I will post on several of these arguments in the coming days.  My first is one you see quite often now:

• People who have never owned slaves should pay slavery reparations to people who have never been slaves.

One side says that descendants of slaves should be compensated for the harm done to their forefathers by our system of slavery in the United States and the ongoing effects of racism.  The other side claims that there has been no harm done to these people by a system that was abolished nearly one hundred and fifty-five years ago, in 1865, and the freedoms guaranteed by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, passed in December of that year.  Some four million African-Americans were freed at that time. Some are saying that nearly seven generations later, descendants of slaves should be compensated.  The only bill promoted in Congress that has ever addressed this issue was the "Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act," which former Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) proposed unsuccessfully to the United States Congress every year from 1989 until his resignation in 2017.  The estimated cost of a fair reparation value is anywhere between $1.4 to $4.7 trillion; or roughly the equivalent to $153,000 in 2020 for every black American, man, woman and child, living today.

Opponents say, first, the United States already is $ 26 trillion in debt.  An argument against reparations looks for a source of money to pay them and finds the cupboard bare. Second, most opponents of reparations claim there is no loss for which these people should be compensated directly.

Proponents of reparations say that the horror of slavery and its demise, brought about only after nearly one million Americans lost their lives fighting over it during the Civil War, put African-Americans in a hole from the very start of their “free” existence and from which they have been unable to climb out.  Reparations are looked at as a way to give descendants of slaves the hand up they need to get out of the hole.

This is a tough one for me because, while I agree that slavery was personally damaging to millions of black slaves and deadly for so many, I want to see a more direct line of harm from forefather to descendant after 155 years to justify financial remuneration.  So I would propose a system whereby a person who can verify they are direct descendants, can prove they have been harmed in any way by the slavery that ensnared their forefathers and/or are below the poverty line should be eligible to receive federal assistance with housing, education, job training, social and emotional counseling, financial guidance as well as freedom from paying federal, state and local income taxes for life. I have no idea what that would cost but my guess it is going to be less than giving every black American one hundred and fifty grand, no strings attached.

Next Up:

• People who have never been to college should pay the debts of college students who took out huge loans for their degrees.

I welcome your critique and alternative solutions you might want to share.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Protests and George Floyd

Protests and riots continue to rage thirteen days after George Floyd, an African American man living in Minneapolis, was brutally killed by a police officer during an arrest.  We all know and have seen that part of the story.  Protesters are claiming, with some validity, police brutality, chanting “Black Lives Matter”, and decrying the return of what appears to be broad spectrum racial hatred, bigotry and prejudice in the United States.  Of course, it is not a “return”, it never left.  It had only been swept under the rug covering our cultural floor.  That covering, many claim, being only a thin fabric of feigned civility and political correctness.  This was a muzzle that many Americans were ready to cast off, saying “we’ve had enough”. That frustration rose up, somewhat unexpectedly, during the 2016 election and we are all living with the result.

That thin fabric has been torn away again, as it has at critical times throughout our history, by a tragic event, revealing a fatal flaw in the American character that our society has been attempting to fix for over two hundred years.  More on that later in this post.

The family of George Floyd, prominent Civil Rights pastors, politicians and the protesters who abhor his treatment and ultimate fate, have eulogized this man and presented him as an innocent martyr begging for his life before five police officers who are supposed to “serve and protect”, not kill their own citizens.  Was George Floyd a model citizen?  No, not really.  We have been told he was being arrested for attempting to pass a counterfeit $ 20 bill; illegal, but hardly a capital offense.  What I haven’t seen on the evening news, Facebook, Twitter and blog posts quite a much, or at all, is that the 46-year-old Mr. Floyd was what most expert authorities would call a “career criminal”.  He had been in jail or prison five times since 1995.  His charges and convictions included drug abuse and criminal possession, theft, criminal trespassing, aggravated robbery, and, as the ringleader of a violent home invasion, he broke into a woman’s home in Houston, pointing a gun at her stomach and demanding drugs and money in 2009.  He was caught, tried and spent four years in prison in Diboll, Texas before being paroled and moving to Minneapolis.

Blood tests performed during his autopsy revealed Mr. Floyd was under the influence of both Fentanyl and methamphetamine at the time of his arrest, a potentially deadly cocktail of drugs.  This might account for his refusal to be put in the police vehicle claiming “claustrophobia”.  In part, it also might account for the heart attack (cardiopulmonary arrest) he suffered, which was the Hennepin County medical examiner’s “official” cause of death, not asphyxiation. Aside from the passing of counterfeit money and the possible detection of his drug use, it is doubtful that any of the police at the scene knew of Floyd’s past offenses and criminal history.  Which is why this appears, and is being interpreted, as a racially fueled or motivated assault, but that will ultimately be decided in a court of law.  The only thing I believe is that George Floyd did not deserve to die; not this time, not in this way.  As a Christian, I know I am supposed to love him and forgive him as our Lord would do.  But, I must admit, sometimes, I struggle with that. I am not perfect by any means.

Ever since the scourge of slavery was prevalent in our country from its founding and finally abolished at the end of a Civil War, which took some 620,000 American lives, our country has been trying to right the wrongs of that egregious system of oppression and prejudice. No less than eight civil rights acts (1866, 1871, 1875, 1951, 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1991) have been enacted to “level the playing field” for people of color, minorities and women.  The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 attempted to address inequalities in voting, education, employment, use of public facilities, transportation, administration of justice, federal government assistance and other civil rights.  While a major step, it still was not enough.  Add to those pieces of legislation the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Refugee Act of 1980, and we are still not there yet.  Why not?  Because as hard as you try to legislate prejudice and bigotry out of existence, nothing will change until the heart of humankind is changed.  Until the concept of white supremacy is recognized, confessed and banned from our way of life, until the shame of inequality among the races challenges us to change, until we recognize that we are all children of God, this fight for equality and justice will rage on.  Will George Floyd be the “last straw” that finally opens our eyes or will there be more George Floyd’s?  Will those who have suffered outrageous circumstances, oppression, even death, before this current tragedy be finally vindicated?  We will see.

There are new laws being proposed, changes in police tactics and protocols being adopted across the country in response to this one incident and people are speaking out in peaceful protests. All good things. Looters and vandals are complicating the issue (and the wheels of justice must address that head on), but there is more to this story, much more.  I will try to address some of these issues directly in my future posts in a search for understanding.  Hope you will continue to follow along and comment as you see fit.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Racism In America

From the time I was nine years old until I was seventeen, I lived in ethnically and racially diverse neighborhoods.  During that time I only had one close friend of African-American heritage, although I played on sports teams with many more.  I had literally dozens of Latino friends and even more friends of the Jewish faith.  I would describe my parents as “race neutral”.  Their mantra was basically “acceptance of everyone” without specific reference to race, color or creed. Unlike a few other parents with which I came in contact, my parents never used slang expressions to define people and, if I did, I was chastised and learned early on of the inappropriateness of my speech.  Consequently, racism and bigotry were mostly foreign to me during my formative years.  Then we moved to Texas.

The transition from Southern California to central Texas was an enlightening proposition.  I enrolled for my senior year at Richfield High School in Waco, a beautiful little town of about ninety-eight thousand people halfway between Dallas and Austin on Interstate 35. In school for only a couple of days, I noticed something very strange, so I told one of the girls in my civics class who sat beside me, let’s call her Alice, what I had observed. Namely, there weren’t any blacks or Mexicans in the school, and I asked her why. Alice said, with a killer smile and thick drawl, “Oh, ’cause those people don’t live in our school district.”

“Ah,” I said, thinking that was a logical reason. Then I thought about it, and it raised another question, so the next day I asked, “Alice, why don’t blacks and Mexicans live in this school district?”
The pretty girl looked at me as if I must be from another planet and said, matter-of-factly, “Because no self-respectin’ real estate agent would dare to sell a black or Mexican family a home in our school district.” She went on to point out that the blacks and Mexicans all went to Waco High School because it was in “their part of town.” I remember being dumbfounded by her response and the casual way she accepted this seemingly arbitrary natural order of things.
My whole life’s experience, everything I was ever taught, told me this was wrong. It was my first encounter with segregation. And over the next year, I learned some of my first lessons about bigotry, prejudice, and racism and how some people do see and give a lot of thought to the color of one’s skin. To be fair, not everyone at Richfield was like that, but many, unfortunately, were. That year was a real eye-opener for me in more ways than one. I was pretty much raised to judge a person, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had so eloquently put it back in 1963, not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” And here I was among so many people—good people, honest people, intelligent people—who truly believed that a person’s character might have something to do with skin color.
I had to make a decision. Either I adapted to this new culture or I stayed true to my values. Richfield was my third high school in three years. My father was in the aerospace industry working for North American Aviation Corporation on the Mercury space program’s Saturn One rocket. He had been transferred to the Rocketdyne facility in McGregor, Texas, which was about fifteen minutes outside of Waco. It was a huge culture shock moving from Southern California to Texas, but I liked these good southern kids, and I wanted them to like me. I wanted to be a part of their lives, but I couldn’t accept some of their thinking on this issue of race. I vowed to myself that I would stay true to my upbringing and my own feelings. I tried to encourage others to think as I did, sometimes to my detriment.

Later on, that next summer before I went off to college, I thought about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had just passed. All I really knew about the new law was that it was supposed to not only champion the rights of blacks but women and all minorities.  However, back then, I had my doubts if even this much debated legislation really had a chance to level the public playing field here in the South.

Despite the fact that dozens of pieces of legislation have followed since 1964, racism, bigotry, prejudice and inequalities among the races continues to this day.  The cold-hearted “murder” of George Floyd is a case in point.  Practically every American, who watches the news on just about any of the hundreds of media formats available today, has seen this deplorable act many times.  The courts will ultimately determine what punishment(s) will be appropriate.  In the meantime, people have taken to the streets of our nation’s cities, large and small, to protest not only the lethal treatment of Mr. Floyd, but to seek justice and substantive change.  Most of these demonstrations have been peaceful; however, some have deteriorated into violence and lawlessness and those acts, as well as the reaction (some might say “overreaction”) against them have fanned the flames of division and hatred in our country.  It has been compared to the worst of the race riots of my youth in the 1960’s.

This is the start of a series of comments I will be posting here over the next several weeks where I try to sort out, for myself and anyone who wants to follow along, where we are today, how we got here, and where we are going in the future as it relates to race in our country.  It won’t be easy.  It is a complex and complicated issue. Some of you might disagree with my opinions and/or conclusions and that is your right.  I really do want to hear a range of opinions. I will try to be factual and use verifiable sources for my assertions and commentary.  I will try to be fair.  My first assertion is that there is not one group who is all right and one group who is all wrong.  If you can be open-minded and agree with that, let's see where this goes.  My first follow-up post will be this weekend.  Please let me know if you are interested enough to follow along.