Today’s classic liberals like classic vinyl were pressed in the late 1960s and the 1970s. They are thinking and acting during this inflection point of “The American Dilemma” with an overarching objective. That more progress is made this time than at previous crucial moments and possibly more progress than in all previous.
A threshold question to consider is whether incessantly reciting and teaching falsehoods and very partial truths about what preceded in the struggle for full racial equality helps or hurts the objective.
Let’s defer for future discussion and categorization (as truth, half or falsity) the current sociology/gender studies teaching that racism and sexism are exclusively practiced by those with power – whites, men, and especially white men.
One falsehood constantly repeated is that little progress has been made. All the hard work and suffering of generations previous to those first galvanized by the police homicides of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and others, produced minimal results.
The assessment of what is big and little is subjective and affected by who is assessing the progress of African-Americans and other Americans of color. But people who weren’t there then, constantly saying that nothing much has changed, makes people who were, much less willing to fight on.
When this classic liberal is challenged to describe “your so-called progress” – to name and quantify it – the demand often comes with the warning “don’t fuckin tell me about Obama’s election.” Accepting that rule without agreeing to its validity, we usually mention this: Not Obama’s re-election, that we consider far more consequential – but the day when the deal of his original election was sealed. Sunday, October 19, 2008 when Colin Powell told Americans who they must vote for. Not his friend and fellow Republican John McCain – because of McCain’s divisive campaign and running mate, Sarah Palin.
Obama, because he “could not only electrify our country but our world.” As he did. America’s obedience to the advice, bordering on orders, from a black man on a vital decision at a moment of national crisis (the looming Great Recession) was demonstration of substantial progress.
A recent similar but less momentous exercise of black power occurred when Representative James Clyburn told Democrats who their nominee would be. Despite Joe Biden’s abysmal debate performances, lackluster campaign and preceding string of primary losses.
Black lives are substantially more powerful, wealthier, longer, healthier, more formally educated and employed in higher positions, private, public and elective than they were a generation or two ago.
It is true that every American harbors racial stereotypes and experiences and exhibits racial feelings. But it’s false that all are or even all whites are racists – unless the bar is as quantitatively low as the one used by Elizabeth Warren to claim Native American status.
The insistence that all are racists and its proof through reference to decades old costume parties and possession of the benefits of white privilege fortifies real racists and suppresses the motivation of earnest people attempting to make the journey to full racial equality.
Another falsehood is that Black Lives would matter more if the police departments of our nation – or say just those in big cities were defunded. Instead of purged of the many bad cops, the very bad training and procedures and bad and racist leadership at the department and union levels. The immediate, short and medium term consequence of defunding or radically reducing the number and presence of police would be many more black lives extinguished, shortened and destroyed. Virtually everyone knows this and anyone that tells you that they “don’t give a fuck about that” is being a lot more honest than those who say the consequences of defunding or radical downsizing are known and beneficial or benign.
No American should try to avoid the opportunities of this moment. We are called to fully recognize the brutal facts and truth of our past and present and pursue the future we want. The constant repetition of falsehoods and fractional truths disserves the cause.