Please see Clarence Wood’s and Bruce Boyer’s commentary, “Together We Can Make a Difference”, along with other important information…
COAL Board of Directors
TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
By Clarence N. Wood and Bruce Hatton Boyer
Every time we think we’ve buried race as a political issue, a Trayvon Martin case pops up to remind us of its enduring presence. Just when we hope we’ve “moved beyond” discrimination, another state passes a punitive voter I.D. law, immigration reform gets stalled or another study shows that housing discrimination is alive and well. Racism just won’t stay buried no matter how many times we smack it down.
The outrage over the verdict in the Martin case misses a deeper point. Racism represents a fear as old as mankind – the fear of people who are different, the fear that one’s beliefs, one’s religion, one’s way of life will somehow become polluted if “the Other” gains legitimacy. This fear came early to the New World, — in 1659 Boston Puritans hanged three Quakers for their beliefs — and minority groups have faced it ever since. In 1868, a Chicago newspaper opined that ‘scratch a convict or a pauper and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic.” Twenty years later, the Germans became The Other when three Germans were hanged after the 1886 Haymarket Riot despite a complete lack of evidence against them. Other “Others” soon took their place — the Slavs, the Italians and the Polish, later the Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese. Jim Crow kept the African-American Other under the yoke until the Civil Rights movement. Today we burn Korans, scream about our “porous” borders, and criminalize gays and lesbians because there always seems to be a new Other to threaten our “purity.” How could it be otherwise in a nation founded on immigration?
The real tragedy of the Martin verdict is that many white Americans want to believe that the issue of race has been “solved.” Yes, legal barriers have been removed and yes, social progress has occurred. Yes, we are no longer shocked at seeing black faces in health clubs and law firms. But during the 2012 campaign concern over unemployment was focused entirely on members of the middle class who had lost jobs while the curse of inner-city unemployment among minorities went unmentioned. Talk of the housing crisis was limited to the issue of home ownership while the problems of urban decay stayed invisible. We believe that the greatest enemy of social progress today is not the Southern redneck but the white progressive who thinks that congratulating himself on not being a Southern redneck is all he or she needs to do.
That surely was the thinking behind the Supreme Court’s conclusion that “the country has changed” when it struck down parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 this spring. But has it? The judge in the Trayvon Martin trial refused to allow any mention of “racial profiling” but can anyone doubt that George Zimmerman followed the young man because he was African-American? Can anyone doubt that the whole affair would have unfolded differently had Trayvon Martin been white and Zimmerman black? Can anyone really wonder why restrictive voter laws across the country are always passed by Republican legislatures afraid of rising Hispanic numbers? Can anyone fail to see that the schools labeled “failing” are always those in minority neighborhoods where economic hardship is the norm? Can anyone really be surprised that a Department of Housing and Urban Affairs study this past June found that housing discrimination is still rampant in all parts of the country?
The jury in Florida came to its verdict not because its members were racist but because of the legal framework in which it had to operate; the State of Florida had sanctified hatred with Stand Your Ground and concealed carry laws. At the same time conservatives in Congress are demanding cuts to social welfare programs because they help the Others in their purported laziness and immorality. All of us continue to punish the punishment already endured by those for whom poverty started at birth.
We cannot legislate racism away; fear of the Other starts in childhood and only deep changes in our society can eradicate it. We can, however, stop enabling it. We have to heed a cry of conscience that has echoed over the past century – from W.E.B. DuBois, from Martin Luther King and from Nelson Mandela, and remember the famous warning of the 18-century English conservative Edmund Burke. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Clarence N. Wood and Bruce Hatton Boyer are President and Senior Fellow, respectively, of Urban Strategies Global, a Chicago-based think tank.
Mr. Wood is the President of the Coalition of African American Leaders