Sunday, May 18, 2014
Nothing to celebrate
Though the ruling didn't end segregation. It ended the legal underpinning of segregation which, as it turned out, was not really necessary for segregation to continue. It continues in Chicago to this day, and is the source of much that is wrong in the city.
You can't even call Brown v. the Board of Education the beginning of the end, since segregation hasn't ended yet. You might be tempted to paraphrase Churchill and say it was the end of the beginning, but it wasn't that either.
So what was it?
Not quite nothing. A step, say, maybe not even a big step, but we told ourselves it was, at the time, because it seemed kind of big. So a medium size step that caused a lot of commotion and a little change. And yes, things are different now, for some people. There are no whites-only drinking fountains. We have a black president.
But are they different enough? Given how long this journey has been, how slow, how glacial progress, is it really honest to point at some dusty perceived breakthrough and pretend it was something it wasn't? Lies are bad enough without venerating them.
In writing Monday's column, on this subject, I was reminded of just how little that ruling actually did. If you look at our problems today, in Chicago, so much is due to the legacy of segregation and racial bias. So many black people in the city are poor, and live in crappy neighborhoods and go to lousy schools and shoot each other as a matter of routine. Few people seem very surprised about it anymore. We sort of expect it. So do they.
A good part—most, maybe; my guess would be a third—of white Chicagoans cling to the centuries-old notion that the black folk prefer it this way. That the current situation is their choice, their fault. Some percentage of the white and comfortable seem to believe that some people on the South and West sides, people whom they haven't met and don't know at all, somehow choose to be poor, go to lousy schools, to shoot each other, etc. Meanwhile, the white and comfortable folks—smart us—do the hard work and carry the intrinsic worth that allows people like ourselves to succeed. We're just better, somehow, and reap the rewards of our efforts.
That's horseshit, of course.
Yes, nobody's life is handed them on a platter. Yes, everybody struggles. But the struggles of some bear far more fruit than the struggles of others. Some have hope. Some have tools. Others don't. And race tends to be the deciding factor. Less so than in the past—thank you Brown v. the Board of Education. But still enough to be too much. Still enough to make any festivities feel hollow and delusional.
Celebrating the anniversary seemed wrong; it should be mourned more than honored. Mourned as a lost opportunity. Another lost opportunity. Mourned as a reminder of how far we haven't come. Which I do in my column in the Sun-Times tomorrow. I didn't put out the flag.