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MLK Day Thoughts

January 16, 2006

Some people are still trying to push America. Others are waking up to
the fact that it’s not going to be that simple, and that what is needed
now is not the activists’ pushing but the quieter, unglamorous work of
building communities.
  – Callimachus @ Done With Mirrors.

Please read this very resonant piece on the Civil Rights movement and it’s cultural legacy entitled "Chaos or Community" (Hat Tip: Pajamas Media):

Almost half a century after the event, many people are still familiar with the Little Rock desegregation picture of a neatly dressed young black girl walking to school with a white girl following her, her face twisted into a mask of spitting hatred, shouting, "nigger, nigger, nigger!" … How many have seen the photo taken years later, by the same photographer, of the same two women, now matronly? They are chatting cordially on the high school steps about mutual friends. Apologies, on the one hand, and forgiveness, on the other, have long since been exchanged. They embraced, and they live together in the same city.

Both pictures are true. It says something that we cling to the earlier one.

Read the whole thing. I am always fond of stories of reconciliation; I am also fond of stories of how people with strong convictions got down on their knees, rolled their sleeves up and worked it out the hard way. His remembrance of a lesser-known civil rights worker named Frances Freeborn Pauley "Everybody’s Grandmother & Nobody’s Fool." She wrote:

I remember one man who was on a school board who helped us work out a plan for his district. He had sent his children to some kind of integrated summer program with black and white teachers. His son had some words, got into some trouble, and came back. This man took his son back to find out what happened. He found out his son had been rude to a black teacher. He went back home, and he said, "We’re teaching our children to lie, and we’re not teaching our children the truth. My child is going to apologize to that teacher and my child is going to the integrated school." This man’s whole sense of values was good and honest. Lots of people were like that, and some of them were brave enough to stand up, like he did, and work for it. And his community desegregated schools smoothly.

You see, everyone had been brought up under "separate but equal," and that was the law. If you were a law-abiding citizen, you’d been taught that the blacks eat here, and sit there, and drink out of this fountain. You didn’t think about it in any moral, or immoral, way. At least I didn’t as I came up. You just hunt for the restroom that says, "White Women," just like you hunt for something that says, "Restroom." It doesn’t have any moral effect on you until you begin to think about it and work on it. And then you see how crushing it was. The man who was just a good citizen obeying the law, going along, and then all of a sudden he saw, with a flash maybe, that segregation was wrong. A lot of them helped to change it.

This is an incredibly charitable assessment of a situation this woman had every right to play to her advantage. As Callimachus notes "Where is this side of the story in the textbooks? Where is it told in the museums or the PBS specials? How many times did it happen like that, for every time it exploded in bombs and blood?"

When I say that Liberals tend to speak more divisively than Conservatives, it’s this lack of charity that I think of. Like Ted Kennedy trying to paint Judge Alito as a racist. It’s crude and vulgar and I hope no one is really buying that line of thought anymore. Racism is gone in America as any kind of political force. Yet Democrats rely on Black fear and mistrust of Whites to win elections. The Civil Rights movement was a great thing for this country. It was so successful in fact, that the need to highlight racial inequality should be greatly, greatly reduced. But now that civil rights is more of an industry than a movement, it will seek opportunities for growth, to the benefit of themselves only.

As the memories of growing up black in the early and mid-20th century give way to the realities of what our country is now – post Civil Rights Movement, race relations could get better. Those memories will persist most strongly in the people that actually experienced them, and when they go, so do the memories. Then we are left with the media record and what interest groups decide to perpetuate. Will it be the first picture, the second one, or both? I hope both, because the grace of the second softens the first as well.

When I lived in the bohemian Silver Lake area of L.A. I had a (black) downstairs neighbor I knew only as Johnny. Always a smile, always a kind hello. He was much older than I – I think he was a Navy cook in the Korean War – and I got a real kick out of him. Johnny went segregated schools, and in fact went to a reunion for one every other year. It was a very important part of his identity.

I recall telling him once that racism was dead in America. Growing up, I think the one truly forbidden word was "Nigger". (I don’t even feel comfortable typing it, to be honest.) No one ever told be this in my family, I just considered it one of the unspoken societal rules. The F-word, vulgarity, sexist talk- fine, in the right company. But judge people on the color of their skin, and you’re beyond what’s acceptable.

And even though we lived in the same quaint neighborhood, in the very same building and had friendly relations, he refused to believe me.

As Callimachus concludes:

Should we work to reconcile ethnicity with citizenship, or the other way around? In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. offered us a choice: "chaos or community." Which are we choosing?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. FecesFlinger (Timmy C) permalink
    January 17, 2006 3:53 pm

    Count you wrote:

    “When I say that Liberals tend to speak more divisively than Conservatives, it’s this lack of charity that I think of. Like Ted Kennedy trying to paint Judge Alito as a racist.”

    May I point out that I can’t think of a less charitable and more devisive possible interpretation of Sen. Kennedy’s questioning of why of Judge Alito’s put his CAP membership as a “resume builder” item on his 1985 job application.

    I’ve mentioned before, Supreme Court vetting SHOULD BE the legal equivelent of a proctology exam, no matter whose party is on either side of the exam. The guy will likely sit on the Court till my son is in his late 30’s to 40’s, deeply effecting his life. It’s that important.


    (Timmy C)

  2. Count Grecula permalink
    January 18, 2006 12:33 am

    Did you not finish my post? Did you not read the whole post at Done With Mirrors?

    The whole point is: which picture do you focus on?

    Ted Kennedy is clearly focusing on the old picture. He’s scrutinizing that old picture, then squinting at Judge Alito, trying to see if he looks like a racist. Why else would he bring this stuff up?

    Alito’s CAP membership proves nothing, just as Sen. Kennedy’s membership in an all male club proves nothing.

    If you’re going to look up someone’s ass, that’s all you’re going to see. How about a handshake? How about a look in the eye?

    Kennedy’s crude insinuations are a disgrace to civil discourse. They serve no serious purpose other than to again smear conservatives as rasists.

    I may actually agree with ol’ Joe Biden on this one.

    These Judges leave a paper trail 100 miles long. There’s no need to dredge up 20 year old resumé items.

  3. FecesFlinger (Timmy C) permalink
    January 18, 2006 4:39 pm

    Hey Count:

    You don’t seem to agree that your comments about Kennedy’s uncharitableness were themselves relatively uncharitable calling him “crude” and purely trying to “smear conservatives as rasists.”

    You seem to be asking how else Kennedy’s comments could be interpreted? “Why else would he bring this stuff up?”

    Here is a dissenting voice to yours, posted by a reader over at Andrew Sullivan’s blog..

    “I graduated from Princeton in the mid-1980s and remember CAP and Prospect well. While that particular article may have been satire (and ask yourself, what exactly were they satirizing? Who is laughing at whom here?) the viciousness of CAP’s language throughout its existence was apparent to everyone who saw it.

    That is why the organization had no support on campus, even from conservatives. CAP didn’t oppose affirmative action, it opposed the admission of women, people of color, gay men and (doubly) lesbians, to Princeton. As far as I can recall, CAP existed solely for the purposes of spreading this ugly rhetoric.

    They did nothing aside from publishing Prospect, nothing except for finding various ways to express their bigotry.

    Why does this matter for Judge Alito? Of course there is no reason to think he is personally a bigot. But in order to get a job he was willing to say “yeah, I’m with those bigots over there.”

    Should someone like that have a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court?

    This is not guilt by association – Alito is the person who chose to do the associating.

    He volunteered a connection to an extremist organization and it is reasonable and appropriate to ask him about why he threw his lot in with these people.

    While Judge Alito may not have signed off on each and every word, he did sign off on the group as a whole at a time when very few Princeton alumni did. And it really is shameful.”

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