US Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt Gen Jay Silveria was rightfully applauded for his forceful comments against racism after racial slurs appeared on the message boards of Black cadets enrolled at the Academy Prep School.
This Air Force vet is proud he spoke out and I look forward to his words being enforced when those who know the culprits report them to authorities and when those in authority expel those responsible.
“If you can’t treat someone from another race or with different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.” ~ Lt Gen Jay Silveria, US Air Force Academy Superintendent
I first experienced the Air Force Academy graduation “March On” in 2013. I was there for the graduation and commissioning of my cousin, Wes Cobb, and I still remember that moment of giddiness during the ceremony when I realized the graduates were going to MARCH TO THEIR SEATS!
Yesterday, as I watched the 2017 Academy graduation, saw the precision execution of the “March On”, listened to the call for excellence, I thought about Army 2nd Lieutenant Richard Collins. Killed before he could serve his country, lynched, according to some, for being black, Collins is another victim of the violence perpetuated on people of color in American.
And I wondered how the almost 300 officers of color commissioned feel about their oath to “support and defend” a country which doesn’t always provide a safe space for them…
This weekend another young black male died violently, this time on a college campus, allegedly stabbed by a white male member of a hate group. This newly commissioned Army officer, on the precipice of a “limitless life” had sworn to “support and defend the Constitution” of his country…this America where he is hated and hunted because of the color of his skin.
And I grieve for what has been lost, for his family, his classmates and his fellow Americans who understand that America is great because of people like Richard W. Collins III.
“As a United States Army Officer who gladly puts his life on the line everyday…there’s no greater conflict within me. How do I feel about my country? And how does my country…feel about me? Are we only to be Americans when the mood suits you?”
Lawrence Fishborne as Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin O. Davis in the movie, Tuskegee Airman
Last spring, in the face of virulent racism in this country, I started rereading Daniel Goldhagen’s provocative bestseller, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Published almost 20 years ago, it explores how ordinary Germans “came to be such potential willing mass killers and how the Nazi regime tapped this disastrous potentiality.”
Goldhagen argues convincingly that the German’s thoroughly anti-Semitic attitude, which led to anti-Jewish measures, legislation, persecution and finally, incarceration and death in concentration camps, had grown unabated for hundreds of years. Anti-Semitism did “not appear, disappear, then reappear in [German] society”; it was always present.” The Nazi’s simply tapped into the hate.
The parallels to the United States’ unique brand of racism are pretty obvious. There is no evidence the beliefs, which allowed, accepted, and condoned the theft of this country from its original inhabitants and the theft and enslavement of peoples from another continent have ever fundamentally changed.
It’s why the politics of fear and division offered by our 45th president have been so successful.
Last weekend, once again we saw the results of extreme and persistent prejudice when ordinary Americans brutally implemented an illogical, illegal and immoral immigration order. The order, which, apparently, was not reviewed by other government agencies, did not come with instructions for the people responsible for its enforcement.
People use double entendre to describe a phrase open to multiple interpretations, one of which is usually indecent. After seeing the Oscar nominated “Hidden Figures”, I realized the title has a number of meanings: the mathematics that made manned space flight possible;
the unacknowledged black women who actually crunched the numbers; and the fact that in segregated Virginia, these women were literally hidden from view, NASA’s dirty little secret.
The movie was a great reminder that even in the face of what must have felt like crippling oppression, I’m descended from people who overcame.
It also reminded me that there are many ways to overcome an unjust, oppressive system. One scene in particular really drove that point home.
After realizing the impending installation of an IBM computer could make her job obsolete, Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, decides to learn how to program the computer. In the scene, Dorothy is on her way to the segregated (white) local library to get what she can find about the computer, when she encounters a group protesting the lack of civil rights for people of color. As she hurries her two children past the protesters, she says something to the effect of “That’s not what we do”. Dorothy’s protest was taking the book on Fortran that the librarian refused to let her check out.
She used it to teach herself, as well as her black female team how to program the brand new IBM mainframe, and when NASA needed a larger team to run the computers, her team was ready.
She didn’t join the protesters marching and holding signs yet her actions made a huge difference in the lives of black families in her community.
It may not look like what others are doing, but she is making and will make a huge difference in the lives of Chicagoans. Because in addition to an American justice system that is truly blind to race, in addition to an American education system that sees the potential in all children, Americans of all races need real opportunities to support themselves and their families. That is what Tammera is providing.
This weekend, we saw all hands on deck as activists, politicians, lawyers, judges, etc. used their talents and skills to fight an action many perceive as un-American. I’m celebrating them, their contributions and focusing on what I can do to protect our fragile democracy.
America is a great idea. It’s an idea full of hope. It’s an idea that speaks freedom, shouts equality and invites peoples from all over the world to pursue happiness HERE…
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Of course, the truths espoused in the American Declaration of Independence have never been true for all Americans. The country has never willingly extended unalienable rights to all its citizens unless they demanded them. For those segments of the population whose rights were initially and deliberately withheld at the founding, the 2016 election seems to be a repudiation of everything fought for, hard-earned…never given. Like many Americans, I’m left wondering if America can really ever achieve its promise
Social and cultural psychologists like Jonathan Haidt, one of the creators of the Moral Foundations Theory, would seem to suggest it’s going to be really difficult. In his widely read piece “What Makes People Vote Republican?” he describes a conservative mindset that sees in diversity a breakdown of social norms and feels a decrease in a sense of belonging to a shared community. Haidt suggests the more liberal among the population focus on those conservative concerns and adjust their rhetoric accordingly.
But if the conservative, predominately white part of the country sees diversity in negative terms, what does that mean for an increasingly diverse America? In a generation, America will no longer have a majority white population. If the determined 25 percent of the country who voted for our 45th president, decided an unqualified candidate, one supported by American terrorist groups like the KKK and spouting fear and division, was the president we deserved, are we supposed to believe they won’t support the repeal of rights gained over the past 50 years? And if the 50 percent of the population who didn’t vote is tired of fighting, too cynical to believe their participation matters or too disengaged to understand the impact of their non-participation, will there be enough to prevent what may be coming?
In the long run, the only way the American Experiment will survive is if we all recognize the fragility of our Republic and work together to overcome the fragmentation that threatens to break it apart.
Before the 17th century, the concept of race did not exist in what would become America. According to Professor Audrey Smedley, the first time the term “White,” (rather than “Christian” or an ethnic name to indicate origin i.e., English, Irish, Scots, Portuguese, German, Spanish, Swede, etc.) “appeared in the public record was seen in a law passed in 1691 that prohibited the marriage of Europeans with Negroes, Indians, and mulattoes”.*
Race was created in America to separate poor whites and poor peoples of color. Outnumbered landowners sought to divide their labor force by encouraging and incentivizing poor whites to identify on the basis of color versus socio economic status. And it worked.
Slavery was not the result of race, but the other way around. And the uniquely, brutal American version of slavery didn’t really end but morphed into other forms of oppression, all undergirded by the racism created during slavery to control and economically exploit people of color.
“…the notion of racial difference…proved far more durable than the institution that gave birth to it.” ~ Michelle Alexander
The durability and relentless nature of racism was my key takeaway from two days of exploring the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. The pattern of gains by black people, followed by backlash from those who would oppress and control was on full display at the museum.
A Civil War fought over slavery and the all too brief Reconstruction period after emancipation was followed by the terror of terrorists groups like the Klan and the implementation of black codes and Jim Crow laws which sought to control and restrict every aspect of black life.
The legislative gains of the 50s and 60s were negated by the seeds of mass incarceration of people of color sown during the Regan era War on Drugs.
The election of Barack Obama led to the overturn of key Civil rights legislation to include the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act because, according to Chief Justice John Roberts, it “had done its job, and it was time to move on”. The ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which removed the requirement for states with histories of voting discrimination to approve their voting changes with the federal government, resulted in the almost immediate passage of restrictive, discriminatory voting laws by Republican state legislators under the guise of voter fraud.
Of course, the real voter fraud is being committed by those states with a history of discrimination. Another kind of voter fraud is being committed by those who would try to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. The truth is your vote does matter…unless you don’t use it.
The forces of racism are relentless and determined to undermine every hard fought gain, negate every success, overturn every piece of legislation enacted to protect and empower those who have been exploited and abused.
The voices of equality and freedom must be vigilant and just as determined to use all the tools are our disposal, to include our vote.
In other words…stay woke, go vote!
Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked
*The History of the Idea of Race… And Why It Matters by Audrey Smedley
Amid the videos of violence committed against black bodies this past week, was one of a Trump official stating that she didn’t “think there was any racism until Obama got elected.” The video of Kathy Miller, who is white and chair of Trump’s campaign in Mahoning County, went viral and resulted in her resigning from her post.
But her resignation only means she won’t be associated with the “isms” emanating from the Trump camp.
It doesn’t mean she has suddenly changed her mind about why some black Americans have not thrived.
It doesn’t mean she no longer believes blacks have “had benefits to go to college that white kids didn’t have.”
It doesn’t mean she’s realized black voter turnout percentage exceeded all other groups in the last two presidential elections.
It just means she won’t have a public platform to state beliefs shared with a number of white Americans who are increasingly vocal about their racism.
She is a product of the systemic racism taught in our public schools and reinforced through racist institutions, most notably our criminal justice system. She has bought into American’s collective self-image, the core of which “is the assumption that mobility is always possible, so failure to move up reflects on one’s character. By extension, the failure of a race or ethnic group to move up reflects very poorly on the group as a whole.” ~ Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
She will hold onto her beliefs because in a country that continues to attract freedom-loving people from all over the world, it’s easier to believe that everyone is free to achieve the American Dream.
“There is but one coward on earth, and that is the coward that dare not know.” ~ W.E.B. Du Bois
The easy thing is to reject new information and realities. The hard thing is to accept what is difficult to know and be transformed through a deeper understanding of the truth.
I remember watching westerns as a child; not a lot of movies but TV shows like Bonanza and The Big Valley. But if you did watch the big Hollywood westerns, you probably had a strong sense of the good guys and the bad guys….the noble settlers versus the ignoble savage; the strong, silent cowboy versus the blood-thirsty savage; civilization versus savagery…
And then we became more self-aware as a nation. We realized the people we labeled “savages” were simply protecting their land, which they viewed as sacred, and their way of life from the entitled interlopers. Avatar could be considered a modern “western” told from the perspective of the natives.
We learned that the myth of the American cowboy derives from Mexican as well as Southern American sources.
So much of what we think we believe about ourselves comes from what we are taught directly from our parents and educational institutions and what we perceive indirectly from society. We are influenced by soft information in all its forms and just like those who don’t live in this country base their beliefs about American on what they see in Hollywood movies, we perceive ourselves and other based on what we see in the media.
The justifications, assumptions and attitudes about peoples of color during the founding of this country shaped government policies and artistic expressions, which in turn influence our current attitudes.
Long past the time the “settlers” of this country sought to eliminate its original inhabitants by forcibly removing them from their lands, isolating them on reservations, or assimilating them into European culture, American Indians, according to Harvard project, “State of the Native Nations” experience epidemic levels of alcoholism, drug abuse, diabetes, and other health problems that are linked to cultural stress.
Long past the time the founders of this country built a thriving economy on the backs of a people they stole from another country, Black Americans suffer from a racist policing system, originated to enforce the subjugation of an oppressed people.
Long past the time the government of America took a portion of inhabited Mexico and declared it our largest geographical state (until they took Alaska), many Americans have decided the Mexican descendants of their Texas cousins are somehow different and less desirable than the immigrants from other locations.
To paraphrase the late Maya Angelou, when we know better, we have to do better…
The easy thing to do is focus on the symptoms of this oppression. The hard thing is to examine how we got here.
The easy thing is to ignore the reality of racism for people of color. The hard thing is to examine why we are still here.
The easy thing is to deflect blame. The hard thing is to accept responsibility.
The easy thing is to reject new information and realities. The hard thing is to transform through a deeper understanding of truth.
Transformation often only comes when an individual becomes uncomfortable in their current existence…when what they know becomes more uncomfortable than what they fear.