“Well, you know, you can’t change what’s in the hearts and minds of the white folks in the South. You can’t legislate what’s in their hearts.” He says, “Well, you can’t legislate what’s in their hearts, but I tell you what: If you can just stop them from lynching me, that’s progress. That’s a pretty good thing.” And over time, hearts and minds catch up with laws. That’s been the history of progress in this country.
Dr. Martin Luther King
Honestly, I have been trying all week to find the heart and the voice to write. It has felt as if my heart has been stopped in my chest and my voice has been silenced. Today is the day we honor Martin Luther King, many say we should treat this day as a day of service in honor of those who marched and served the cause of Civil Rights, worked to eliminate the egregious Jim Crow Laws and broaden Voting Rights Laws for all citizens. Imagine, there are those who do not know this history do not remember a time when our fellow citizens could not vote, could not sit at the counter or share a table in a restaurant simply because of the color of their skin. Despite how recent this history, there are those who wish to erase it from our school books and our memories.
Many today say it is better then when the brave men and women stood upon the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, 7 March 1965 and faced down State Troopers and civilian posse’ armed with tear gas and clubs wrapped in barbed wire on Bloody Sunday. There are those, including some who were there that say 2015 is better than 1965, we have made progress. I am hard pressed to find this much discussed much vaunted progress in light of the tragic and terrible across this nation. Is it me?
Someone asked me yesterday if I thought it was getting better or worse. I had to consider the differences and the changes since 1965, what the meant. Have things really improved, as some would have us believe? Are some of us simply overreacting to the news cycles, which is what some say to those of us who follow and write about the issues of Race in America. Or are things regressing, going backwards having never truly changed only gone into hiding until the all clear signal was sounded the election of Barack Obama bringing out all the fears and fury of the dwindling White majority.
I had to think about it, consider my answer carefully. Ultimately, my answer was option three (3). Maybe it got better for a little while, things moved forward and improved on the surface. As a nation, we took seriously ending segregation, ending Jim Crow, ending lynching, ending the disparities in education and access to jobs for fifteen years before the disaster of Ronald Reagan and his War on Everything. Yes, I said it, the nation began a slow decline with his election, he was in my humble opinion the worst thing that could have happened to anything slightly resembling progress. We need only look at what he ushered in or who he attacked on his road to the White House, with his ‘Welfare Queen’ meme. Then his War on Drugs and the disparity in sentencing laws, started during his time in office, which have only begun to be addressed by this administration. Finally, we need look no further than the the slow disintegration of our infrastructure, education systems and the rise in poverty to understand what he started has finally come to fruition. If there is an afterlife, Saint Ronnie must be gleeful.
Has it gotten better?
What could possibly lead any of us to believe it is better? Truly, the scales over our eyes must be iron plated that we believe it is better. But let’s examine so maybe I and others can be convinced of this ‘better’.
Voters Rights, the act was originally authorized in 1965 and until 2006 was reauthorized as required with bipartisan support in both houses of Congress and signed by the President, no matter the party. In 2006, thirty-three members of the GOP House voted not to reauthorize the Voters Rights Act, they went on record as being against protecting the rights of all citizens to exercise their fundamental right to vote. In 2013 the Supreme Court gutted, in a vote of 5-4 the most critical portion of the Voters Rights Act Section 5, freeing states to change their voter laws without oversight by the Justice Department; in essence paving the way for a return to pre-1965. For a good synopsis of the Voters Rights Act and Voting in America, go here. Since the gutting of the VRA, multiple states mostly in the South, have enacted new voting laws including Voter ID, changes to hours, changes in the availability of voting equipment primarily in minority districts, reductions in early voting, changes to mail in voting and a host of other ‘conveniences’ that predominately impact minority voters.
Extrajudicial killings, we even have a name for it now this murder by cop, sounds all official and everything, like somehow these murders are somehow acceptable within a civil society. Well based on outcomes apparently they are, no police officer is being prosecuted for murdering an unarmed man or woman, in fact they are being protected by the public servants we pay to protect us, from cops to district attorneys all the way up to Governors. There was a time in this nation when at least people had the courtesy to murder in the dark of night, with white sheets covering their shame. Now? Not so much. Now police, in their uniforms murder unarmed men, women and young boys in broad daylight and the middle of the street knowing they will get away with it. Hell, the media will help them by digging up every minor flaw in their history, painting their victim as the aggressor despite the truth, using language to convince an ignorant and unthinking public to be afraid of the ‘other’, language like ‘criminal’, ‘thug’, ‘gang member’, ‘hulk like’, ‘monster’ and ‘demon’. We heard terms like these about every single unarmed person the police murdered, every single person some citizen murdered, every single unarmed Black child, man or woman; they were other and somehow deserving of their death.
We have the highest prison population in the free world. Now there is something to be proud of. This country has divided families, created horrific poverty, destroyed communities and developed a de facto slave economy with their for profit prison solution. We have men in prison for decades, men who did not commit the crimes but who were railroaded by dishonest cops and DA’s into prison. We have Black and Brown men and women in disproportionate numbers filling our systems up with far longer sentences than their White counterparts for the same crimes, oh wait we have the Affluenza Defense for White Folks, kill people, rape children your own or others, but don’t go to jail if you are White.
These are just some of my observations. I wish I could say I thought it was getting better. I don’t think it is getting better at all. I think perhaps, there are some of us out here who have shed our bigotry and bias, but we are not doing enough, we are not speaking up, we are not lending our support and standing up with those who need us to stand up with them. What we are doing is allowing those who would like nothing better than a return to Jim Crow and the day’s pre Civil Rights, pre Loving-v-Virginia, pre VRA and pre Integration to be voted into Congress at a state and national level, to remain seated on the highest courts of the land and what they are doing is dismantling every single protection and piece of progress ever made.
Do I think it is better? No, I don’t think it is better. I think in many ways it is far worse. I think it is worse because I know it could be better but we are sitting back and allowing our nation to falter through our apathy. I weep for all of us, for the loss of life and the loss of our promise, for the loss of a great dream.