Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nothing to celebrate


   I thought about putting the flag out Saturday to mark the 60th anniversary of Brown v. the Board of Education, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling that ended legal segregation. And why not? It was a patriotic holiday, of sorts.
     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.

7 comments:

  1. Brown v Board of education land mark status came from its promise of change,
    it's potential.
    Had, we as a nation, continued the good fight, in our rear-view mirror, the
    legal victory would be seen as the tipping point in our move toward racial
    equality. The problem is we underestimated the strength of the wind blowing
    against progress- in fact it seems, like a hurricane passing over warm waters,
    the wind speeds are increasing.

    In some small ways it reminds me of the moon landing, a clear triumph for
    mankind; an event that was supposed to have led us to a moon base as launch-pad
    to Mars and beyond. Thirteen years after the date 2001, the Clark, Kubrick film
    collaboration seems more futuristic now than it did when it was released. They
    to failed to grasp how tightly we are bound to the status quo.

    I was reading that the largest factor in whether one graduates college is the
    wealth of their parents. The paths leading to upward mobility, even if just to
    the middle-class, are more than ever tied to education. Brown v Board of
    Education had the potential to level the field, to open doors, and it did, but
    the wind blowing against them has not diminished.

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  2. Good, if sad, column. I think you are being generous in your estimate of one-third, I would argue it's closer to two-thirds. But maybe I've just been reading too many internet comments.
    Great comment, Larry.

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  3. That evil flag is the symbol of racism, war, tyranny and death here at home and around the world. It is today's swastika.

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  4. Author Dr. Ruby Payne connects the dots on childhood poverty's place in under-resourced homes. Neighborhood turning against themselves should be seen as a harbinger of the start of the end: such gross inequality of opportunity will lead to frustration, then anger, and now as seen -- self immolulation.

    But better Old Glory than the Stars and Bars. Our country, the state has a history of legalized slavery based on appearance and who is one's birth mother. Set aside engrained racism, centuries of lawful slavery on American soil builds much push-back: the human spirit is fragile and sensitive.

    I'm not worried about the racists: those in bubbles have only imprisoned themselves and risk popping their own unnatural mental fortress if they ever see people as people and lose the identity politics, even momentarily.

    --Art Gold


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  5. The Brown case was a start but that's about it. Look at Pence trying to stop voter equality in Indiana, while he was governor. Or what the South tries today when it comes to voter registration. For once, I have to agree with those J. Jackson columns.

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  6. You can trust those other Amazon ink sources. Saves a bundle. Or next time try a brand that doesn't have such expensive ink.

    Brother printers might be fine unless you use it very heavily.

    But back on the other matter, there is some self responsibility involved too.

    Some of my black suburban neighbors sound like skinheads practically when they chat about hood blacks and local news with me.

    John Fountain is also realistic about self responsibility too.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.