by Jerome Grapel……..
[5/15, Spain. This essay was the offspring of a previous essay called “News From America,” where I discussed the Spanish reaction to the racial unrest in Baltimore, Md.]
As mentioned in the essay “News From America”, other than giving me an idea as to what the Spaniards are paying attention to, this article had no educational value for me. But it did get me to thinking about our struggle with racism in America and where we’ve gone since the days of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ali, and the Civil Rights Act. Has the situation improved a lot, a little, or not at all? In watching many of the scenes associated with Ferguson, Baltimore, and a host of others, I found myself thinking, wow, I’ve seen this all before over the last 50 years — Rodney King and L.A., Detroit, on and on. Will we ever get past this?
It would be unfair to say we haven’t made progress in this area, but it seems to be more cosmetic than substantive. A certain kind of “glass ceiling” for people of color has been broken. An Afro-American’s fame and fortune is no longer confined to being a tap dancer or great athlete. The rest of us have grown comfortable with black faces in places we’d never seen them before — super star cinema idols, newscasters, political pundits, weathermen and women, game show hosts, as spokespeople for major brands of products, so forth and so on. We see black intellectuals expounding upon scientific and economic issues. On a more mundane level, I believe most of us would now feel comfortable with a black real estate or insurance agent, with a black doctor, auto salesperson, stock broker, airline pilot, with black teachers and professors. We’d probably have no thoughts with regard to shopping and buying from black entrepreneurs. A whole litany of positions we’d not associate with “colored people” in the past have beckoned them into the fray.
And to top it all off — there he is, the Commander in Chief himself!
This is good. It has given us all the chance to see just how equal we are with regard to intelligence and human possibility. But it is also a bit misleading. It makes us think everything is alright when it is not. The year 2015 has proven this.
If you scrape that thin layer of make up off the sociological face of America, one soon begins to realize those same blemishes and imperfections that have always existed are still there, and in abundance. The United States of America continues to be a highly segregated society, and those relatively few Afro-Americans who have taken advantage of the shattered glass ceiling, the ones we see on TV or in the news, tend to make us forget this. But events like Baltimore or even the meteorological disaster in New Orleans become stiff right hands to the jaws of our consciousness as we realize the bulk of the black community still lives in marginal conditions. The “ghetto” is alive and not well. Is there any solution to this?
If, as I do, you believe the historical DNA of the black community (or any community) is of primary relevance as to who and what it is in the present; if, as I do, you do not believe in any physiological advantages or disadvantages inherent in one group of human beings over another, then you must also believe something can be done to rectify the situation. What’s more, it is not enough to say, “here, you’re equal”, and simply turn people loose in the competitive format of neo-liberal capitalism. If your historical DNA has left you playing with a wooden tennis racquet, you are not going to win many matches. A more public, official effort is necessary. As a society, we have to understand it is positive for all of us to shrink and minimalize these extensive liver spots of poverty and marginalization in our midst. It is essential for our collective and individual success.
Ok, PCM, you’re doing the talking here, you’re the one flapping your mouth with sociological opinions — what would you do?
What I’m about to suggest is nothing “avant garde” or about to open for the first time on Broadway. However, what I’m about to suggest has been discredited and abandoned by market mavens, Friedmanite economists, libertarians and the anti-government rhetoric that accompanies such “ideology”. I put the word ideology in quotes because, for the most part, it is the self interest of our corporate masters, pushed by their well paid (bribed?) employees in Congress, that energizes all this, not “ideology”. In rejecting this socio-economic trend, one I find incapable of dealing with the universal forms of Ferguson and Baltimore that continue to hold back our national aspirations, I’d start, quite simply and rationally, with education.
In the essay “The Crucifixion of Bill DiBlasio”, I mentioned his cornerstone policy of providing free pre-school to anyone wanting to use it. I can’t think of a better place to start in addressing the problem now under consideration. These children, whose home environment is quite often unsatisfactory, need this precocious educational impulse to get them started in the right direction when they have still not been tainted by the “mean streets” they live in. On the other side of this proposal is President Obama’s call for a free system of Community Colleges. Excellent! For those lacking the funds for a chance at higher education, this could be the open door to a highly technical or professional career, which is no different from saying it is a path into the middle class and beyond.
OK, slow down, it can’t be that easy. This is a long haul project requiring substantial amounts of tedious, monotonous, repetitive, boring rehabilitation work. This is a complex disease you cannot find relief from by simply taking a Tylenol. We have to keep working on it, doing the research, experimenting with it. But we cannot go on institutionally ignoring this. We must put our energies together as a nation — not as private charities or corporations — in an effort to do away with these nasty images we’ve been so bombarded with in 2015.
I’ll leave the reader with this final thought: a nation’s success is not measured by how much wealth there is at the top, but by how little poverty there is at the bottom.
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