Monday, July 01, 2013

Change We Shouldn't Believe In

Robin R. Ford describes herself in Salon as "an educated African-American woman" whose "parents grew up in the South."   She would like to sit down with Paula Deen and talk to her about race, though she "can't bring myself to dislike her" and states "I forgive her."

I don't much care whether Ford is able to arrange her meeting because, like her, I find Deen's failure to grasp reality far less important than Chief Justice Roberts' unwillingness to acknowledge it.   In his politically brilliant decision (text, here) striking down chapter of the Voting Rights Act- rendering the legislation impotent while avoiding eliminating the entire law- Roberts imagined a country that never has been.   "Today the nation," the Chief Justice intoned, "is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were."   Ford notes

Just because a biracial man who appears more black than white was elected president doesn’t make discrimination based on color a problem of the past. If race were no longer an issue in this country then young black men wouldn’t make up the vast majority of those incarcerated. And minorities wouldn’t have lower test scores because of unfairly funded schools, and poverty would not affect minorities disproportionately. And no one would contest the president’s heritage.

The fact of the matter is, race still matters. It is a constant fact of life in this country whether we want to admit it or not. It would be nice to feel like Obama’s election and resounding reelection signaled the end to racism in America, but I fear that it just made those who have hatred in their hearts that much more determined to keep minorities “in their place.” The fear of losing control of the country to minorities has actually pushed many out of the racist closet. The country is as divided by race as it has ever been. The difference now is that people don’t speak in public what they are thinking and sharing behind closed doors. The difference is that now there are laws that protect minorities from overt discrimination, legislation like the Voting Rights Act, which has protected every citizens’ access to voting since 1965.

It seems such a long time ago, but it was less than five years ago that Adam Nagourney expressed in The New York Times the sentiment of centrist and conservative Americans and, especially, the mainstream media when he characterized the election of Barack Obama as "a strikingly symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation's fraught racial history, a breakthrough that would have seemed unthinkable just two years ago."    
On that election night when the naive held sway, the victor boasted "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."  And his vanquished opponent, the Arizona senator, believed "This is a historic election, and I recognize the significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.  We both realize that we have come a long way from the injustices that once stained our nation’s reputation."

Well, yes, the injustice of slavery has been abolished.   Even Paula Deen, John Roberts, and (probably) Clarence Thomas are glad about that.    But Bill Maher, who boldly continues to be politically correct, put it well (video, below) on Friday night when he observed

I found it very fun, funny- or maybe not funny.  I watched John Roberts say "This country has changed- racism not a big deal anymore.  That's why we got rid of the voting rights act.  Then two days later I watched this woman on the Trayvon Martin trial, Rachel Jeantel, talking to the white white lawyer and they literally could not understand each other.  And I thought these Supreme Court dudes- they don't live in the real world; they don't know how much the country has changed.

At one point he said "Did you call the police" and she was like "you know what? people like me don't call the police.  We try to avoid the police."

Perhaps Maher and some others would attribute all this to racism, which would be an oversimplification akin to thinking that the election of a black (actually, mixed-race) man over a guy representing a party understood to have mauled the nation signified the upheaval of the old order.   The election of Barack Obama did not prove "all things are possible," with inequality and social immobility continuing to grow in the U.S.A.  Nor was it a realization of "the dream of our founders" or curtail the injustices of the military-corporate complex.   It was merely an election which changed little, as Chief Justice John Roberts demonstrated last week when he moved to make it more difficult for the poor, the elderly, minorities, and others less privileged to exercise the franchise.

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