Saturday, October 18, 2008

Racism in America

I'd like to believe that somehow America has transcended its racist past, but the honest truth is that this nation is still deeply racist, and almost nothing has been transcended. The only thing that happened is that, at some point, everyone just decided not to deal with this anymore. I expect for the different communities there were different reasons. White America was tired of having its conscience poked and being reminded of thier history. Black America was tired of having to bleed all the time.

I've thought about this a lot, and my current pet theory puts the date at 1968. I think that was the pivot for America, politically and socially. Perhaps that's an easy date, because of the murders of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, and the rise of Nixon. But I think, at some point, civil rights leaders just felt tired. They must have; it was a tremendous burdon upon any of them, to save America's soul and lead it to the promised land. Sooner or later, you just want the bloodletting to stop. You want your children to have a future, but you also want to grow old with them as well.

White America, in my mind, gets the bulk of the blame here. I don't offer any excuses for racism, for slavery, for the terror and death of Jim Crow. It was a monstrosity then, and it remains a monstrosity today. It's just that we changed the name of Jim Crow. Now it's racism under the guise of the "War of Drugs," or the "War on Crime," or the GOP's "Southern Strategy." Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Even for those of us in the Hip-Hop Generation, we have to grapple with this poison, with the subtle and unsubtle ways prejudice and racism permeate our society. Those of us who are palefaces somehow miss a lot of this. Or perhaps we were trained to look the other way. White America is a slave to a culture of fear. Dr. King taught us about this, and he felt that eradicating this nation's original sin would liberate all people.

I expected to see this cancer reemerge with the rise of Barack Obama. You could set your watch to it. And I think, ultimately, it is a good thing. Mainstream America must be forced to deal with this. They cannot be allowed to look away, to make excuses, to pretend and close their eyes. They must make a full accounting for this, and pledge to make the change. This was the goal, after all, of Dr. King's militant non-violence. It was a masterstroke of applying the Christian Gospels in the television age. We must find ways to use our modern technologies to continue his work, which is now our work.

In this life, you don't get points for being a benchwarmer. There is no neutral. You have to play the game, so you might as well get on the field and get your jerseys dirty.

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