It has been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This has become a true statement, especially when it comes to race relations in America. Throughout our history we have seen everything from slavery to legalized segregation to the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
Today we sit 50 years removed from the civil rights movement. 50 years ago this past weekend we witnessed the Selma March. We saw the marchers being attacked viciously by police of the time. We witnessed similar beatings during other civil marches. We saw “freedom riders” be murdered simply because they wanted to help blacks gain the right to vote.
Those times were filled with violence against protesters seeking the same civil liberties that were afforded to others but denied to some because of the color of their skin. We saw four little girls killed when their church was bombed. We witnessed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Worse we witnessed those caught committing acts of violence walk away free because of a corrupt judicial system.
I was in high school during much of these troubled times. I saw first hand the hate and violence perpetrated against people. I witnessed the hatred even among my own neighbors. No, I did not grow up in the deep south, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago.
It was during this time that I began to seriously question religion. I saw so-called Christian Preachers teach that segregation was “God’s Will.” I heard comments on the church steps after mass by my own neighbors complaining about the “blacks.” The “N” word was used regularly. I questioned how could someone spend time in church praying and still harbor such hatred.
I attended a private high school in a predominantly black neighborhood. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, we saw hundreds of people basically surround our school. We were an integrated school, but like the rest of the city the majority of students were white. School was let out early and fortunately there was no violence as we left the neighborhood.
As the 60s came to a close, things calmed down some. People thought that we had finally crossed the line and that we had defeated racism. That was a fanciful dream, but not reality. Anyone who rightfully remembers those times remembers Richard Nixon and his “Southern Strategy.” That was a strategy that basically said if he could carry the South, he could win the election. Since the South was against the Civil Rights Bill, that wasn’t hard for him to do.
We also remember that George Wallace ran an independent campaign for President based on a racist platform. Both Nixon and Wallace not only railed against blacks, they railed against the “Hippies” as well. There was a clear “divide and conquer” mentality to that election. Nixon based his coalition on segregationist of the deep south and on the Conservative Christian Cult. It was during this election we first heard the term “welfare queen.”
Nixon won the election. Some were concerned that George Wallace even ran with his racist platform. The only thing about Wallace’s campaign that worried me was that over 9 million people actually voted for him. The thought that over 9 million people were in favor of an American version of Apartheid was worrisome by itself.
As time went by, the Republican Party moved more right, especially on social issues. The party that claimed Abraham Lincoln as its hero, and had a history of fighting for equal rights, sold its soul for votes. It began to demonize Blacks and Latinos. It began trumpeting fear in its platform. And of course, if you weren’t on their side, you must be a Communist.
It has come to the point where today, 50 years after those troubled times, we see the Republican Party mired in the politics of hate. They have taken up the mantra of the “Old South,” they just don’t use the exact words. As a matter of fact, if Ronald Reagan were to run for President on the Republican side today, he would never get out of the primaries. He would be branded as a “Republican In Name Only” because he wouldn’t be “conservative enough” for the Tea Party and their Cult cronies.
It is true that we have more Blacks in CEO offices than before. It is true that we have a Black man in the Oval Office. But, it is also true that Blacks are still proportionately more unemployed than whites. It is also true that Civil Rights are still under attack from the Cult and other wackos. It is also true that unarmed black men are being shot and killed by the very Police Officers who are supposed to protect them.
We are seeing cuts to welfare, food stamps, WIC, and other programs designed to help the poor. We are seeing education budgets for public education cut dramatically. We have seen a dramatic rise in income and social inequality. How can this be happening in a country that was founded on the principle that “all men are created equal?”
It is because hatred and prejudice are still rampant in too many parts of this country. Hate seems to be the only thing that has remained constant with too way too many people. That is a very harsh indictment on us as a whole. We see it everywhere. We see it on TV in speeches. We see it in laws being passed that legalize discrimination. We see it in racist emails that get passed around. We see it in voter suppression laws.
Don’t think that conservatives just came up with their voter suppression laws that have been passed in far too many states. They have had plans to make things tough for people to vote for years. They were simply waiting for the right opportunity to put them in place. They call it “True Vote.” That is just code words to make sure Blacks, Latinos, Elderly, and Young Voters don’t get to vote. These “Photo ID” laws are intended to make it difficult for these groups to vote. They place another burden on them to “prove” they are citizens and are actually who they say they are.
These laws cost the individual time and money. Many members of these groups don’t have a driver’s license and are being forced to spend money to get copies of their birth certificate in order to get their “Photo ID”. Many also have to travel tens of miles to get to an office where they can get their ID. Some as much as 250 miles. Without a driver’s license, that is a very difficult thing to do.
These laws were not designed this way by accident. These laws were designed to make it more difficult for them to vote because historically these groups tend to vote Democratic. It all boils down to the same thing. Voter Suppression. That was proven in Pennsylvania when the Republican Leader of their legislature stated very dramatically after a similar law was passed “Photo ID law that will ensure Mitt Romney wins Pennsylvania.. Done!”
During the 50s and 60s people were murdered over their desire for equality. Thousands of people were injured when police charged the lines and began mercilessly beating people. Thousands of people were arrested for daring to march to protest inequality.
If we could speak to those people today, what would we say? How could we explain to them that although there has been some little progress in race relations, we are reverting back to the days they marched? How is it possible that America has lost its soul, again?
I guess the only thing we can actually say is “We’re Sorry.” But that rings very hallow. We must take up their mantle and continue the fight until racism really is a thing of the past. We owe them that much!