BY JOHN L HORTON
“Those who live with us are our brothers (and sisters), and they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.” Robert F. Kennedy
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Frederick Douglass
“Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.” Toni Morrison
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Some things never change, do they? Or, some things change slowly…but surely, don’t they? Here we are some 50 years after the inner city riots in some of our major metropolitan communities, and 51 years after the Kerner Commission (Racial) Report (1968), and some things never change…and some things change slowly, but surely….
Probably Drs. W.E.B. DuBois and Gunnar Myrdal said it best, “America’s greatest dilemma of the 20th Century is the social issue of race.” I might add that it is still America’s “greatest social dilemma” in the 21st Century.
At times I see so much hatred, racism, anger, greed, selfishness and fear among our citizenry. So much is going on when it comes to racial distrust, social polarization and political divide. Accordingly, I decided that I could be a “spectator,” or I could be a “participant.” In choosing to be a “participant,” I identify with Robert Kennedy: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Accordingly, I concur with Kennedy’s healing and inclusive words: “Those who live with us are our brothers (and sisters), and they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”
Being a 78-year-old African-American male, I have experienced racism in all its forms and manifestations. It is evil and it kills the human spirit. For example, I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the 1940s and 1950s when African Americans were not allowed to become law enforcement officers, firefighters, lawyers, judges, doctors, dentists, bankers, contractors, teachers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and other working professionals for the public at large. Even today, some of these realities are still self-evident. In too many communities and cities, not much has changed for many of America’s minorities.
For my entire life, I have struggled in this “righteous fight” for equality under the law and full acceptance according to the Constitution. I profoundly believe as Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
From personal experience and observation, I know that “racism and its cohorts” are the “cause and curse” for some of what restricts and debilitates African Americans and other minorities: unproductive citizens, deteriorating neighborhoods, insufficient public housing, substandard schools, high unemployment, low pay, inadequate health care, declining public safety, faltering affirmative action, punishing welfare reform, restrictive immigration/naturalization, and the list goes on. In short, racism is an “evil monster.” And, it needs to be aborted in the name of the “common good.” (Again, I say these are some of the effects of racism…because there are also other significant factors, realities and circumstances that negatively affect African Americans and other minorities. Also, I am a firm believer in “self-help and that self-help begins in the home.”)
When allowed and tolerated, racism breeds hatred, fear and violence. Further, it promotes demagoguery, disharmony, dissension, division, and disunity. America does not need any more of this debilitating and destructive behavior. As Americans we have a multitude of national and international problems that lie before us. We need to come up with answers for our dilemmas of economic poverty, political inequity, social deprivation, and the like. We cannot afford to allow the “evil of racism” to sidetrack us. This is a time for unity, fairness and accord – not disunity, dismay and disaccord. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would espouse, “We need to become drum majors for equality, justice and peace.”
Racism has always been used as a divisive mechanism to polarize Americans along social, economic and political lines. Therefore, America must acknowledge where she has gone awry when it comes to race relations and the like. Over the years, America has given an “appearance of law” even when the law was being broken in these matters. There has to be a profound awareness of “what went wrong” for things to ever “be made right.” And, until this happens, nothing much will ever substantively change.
Historically and culturally, white supremacy (racism and discrimination) has been perpetuated for over 250 years to justify slavery and over 100 years of Jim Crow oppression. This racial oppression has been perpetuated both in “words” and “actions” over the years. As some have said: “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.”
America’s “legacy of racism” is one of the “biggest hurts” that can be perpetrated against anyone. It reminds me of the old saying: “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” Pure and simple, that is the terrible essence of racism and its effect upon others.
Together, we can defeat the “evil monster of racism” and all that it stands for. We need to bring about an eradication of racism whenever it has the audacity to raise up its ugly head. There is “something in it” for all of us. To remain the world’s leader and economic forerunner, we have to include all Americans with their diverse talents and skills. We must allow them to participate and contribute at their maximum capacity. Thusly, we can no longer allow racism to divide Americans along social, economic and political lines.
All of this reminds me of the reflections and remarks by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela:
“ Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (Dr. King)
“ No one is born hating another person, because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they learn to hate they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Nelson Mandela)
In effect, both political parties are full of partisan gamesmanship and there appears to be no cease-fire in sight. However, it is time for us to come together, regardless of political party, and do what is best for America. At this critical time in history, our country “needs” us. She is challenging us to do our very best.
True, America is not without her “bruises, blemishes and blockages,” but she is still, by far, the best when it comes to freedom, opportunity and progress. In short, America is not perfect, but she is far better than her contemporaries are. To paraphrase the sage and eloquent words of Alexis de Tocqueville: “Those that despise people will never get the best out of others and themselves…The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults….”
Despite sometimes demagogic behaviors and xenophobic attitudes, there has been a mostly positive renaissance in America in (overall) terms of the economy, education, empowerment and equality of her peoples. America is still great because she has an innate strength and enduring stamina to heal her bruises and cleanse her wounds. America is still great, because she steadfastly promotes optimism and assertively overcomes pessimism. Moreover, America is still great because she indefatigably promotes inspiration and consistently defeats alienation.
We are Americans. We can achieve this “unachievable dream.” Yes, we can, for we have come so far and done so much together. Also, it is time for our politicians (public servants?), corporate managers, financial stakeholders, civic leaders and public citizens to “work together” to heal our wounds and solve our problems, first and foremost.
I firmly believe that most Americans want what is best for our fellow citizens and our country: fairness, opportunity, responsibility, education, respect, equality, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing more. Nothing less. As such, we can appeal to our “better angels.” We can be(come) that “shining city on the hill.” We can be(come) those “thousand points of light.” We can be(come) “Camelot.” If it is to be, it is up to us!
If “we” work together, this can be accomplished. Our history, heritage and humanity demand and require this of us. And, we should always remember that “power and strength reveal not who you are…but what you are….” We are all in this together. In this effort, we are one and we are the same. When it comes to this, there is no “we” or “they.” No “them” or “us.” America has enough riches and wealth for all of us to be adequately provided for. There are enough natural resources, human resources and technology resources for all of us. There really are. We don’t need any more hellfire and brimstone; we need unity and utility. We don’t need any more negativity and pessimism; we need positivity and optimism.
We must believe in ourselves…and in each other…if we fail…our America fails. And, in this circumstance, failure is not an option. We are at the precipice of what could be…what can be. This is our opportunity to fulfill our aspirations, hopes, dreams, ambitions and potentialities. This is our chance to do “good” for all of us. In today’s world, we need more camaraderie, commitment and compassion. Together, we can make a difference. Sometimes, we must put our country’s overall best interests ahead of our party politics. Sometimes, there is a need for a society and culture of “we,” instead of a society and culture of “me.”
We must get away from the selfishness of: I have gotten mine; good luck with getting yours, too. We should remember the Chinese Proverb: “Be kind to everyone. (Almost) Everyone is going through something unbeknownst to you.”
Collectively, we must learn to shine a light, rather than curse the darkness. Basically, “we” all want the same rights, privileges, freedoms, responsibilities, and the like, right? Sometimes, we must strive for the common good, general welfare and more perfect union.
Working together in the spirit of “e pluribus unum,” we can do this. Together, as Americans, we can overcome the hatred, racism, anger, greed, selfishness and fear. Yes, we can! For, I profoundly believe as Dr. King espoused: “That the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”