As some observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday in honor of the slain black civil rights leader of the 50s and 60s, I a white guy offer this:
I have to think that a certain amount of tension, distrust, or at least suspicion, and competition among the races in somewhat of a natural human trait.
I also have to think that most of us white folk, at least those of us born to the Baby Boom generation and back, have grown up in a culture that puts out somewhat of a double message — one being that race discrimination or judging someone by the color of his or her skin is wrong and the other being that, well, black folk are second class, not that such is right, but, well, you know, that is how society (the non-black society) views it.
All school children are taught that Abraham Lincoln was the great emancipator of the black slaves in the United States of America. They are even told a tale of how when as a young boy he saw slaves being auctioned off and it made him sick (at least they taught that when I was in grade school). What they don’t teach in that lower level is that Lincoln did not feel that the black slaves were on par with white folks and probably never could be. He favored a plan to allow them to emigrate back to Africa. But Lincoln did feel that the United States could not survive as a nation half free and half slave. I think he was against slavery and also against the whole slave economy.
Eventually, the idea of allowing or providing for emigration back to Africa was tried. With the help of the U.S. government (I forget the exact history of this) some black people actually did go to Africa and a new nation of Liberia was created. But you have to realize that by this time this was generations later than when the original slaves came over. Those returning were no more natives of Africa than I am of Germany or France and wherever else my ancestors came from. The locals were none to keen on the idea. Also, another phenomenon was observed. The lighter skinned black immigrants took charge.
Another curious thing to me is that even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation only applied to those in the rebellious states, not elsewhere, not even in the nation’s Capital, Washington, as I recall reading.
After the Civil War and after gaining their freedom, many former slaves and their descendants migrated north for better opportunities. And while they did find opportunities they also found discrimination just as bad as they faced in the South.
But thanks to the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and many other civil rights leaders and their followers, and thanks to President John F. Kennedy who pushed for civil rights legislation, and thanks to that slain president’s successor, Lyndon Johnson (once a segregationist because it was politically correct in his neck of woods at the time), who used his political skill and influence to push through major civil rights legislation, great progress was made.
All this did not by itself change things, but it did provide the structure and the legal backup.
A phenomenon I have noticed is that many individuals, irrespective of their race, take advantage of legitimate opportunities where they find them. Others look to excuses and cynically see opportunity there.
And to offer a candid white perspective I have to insert this: the image of black rioters smashing store windows and carrying out TV sets during those riots that took place each summer in the 60s sticks in my mind — how did this help the cause? Law abiding black people should not have to suffer as a consequence of non-law abiding ones, just as patriotic Muslims should not bear the guilt of those who are here to do us harm — but in both cases it might not hurt to hear a condemnation of the bad people from the good people of the same race or religious faith (just like all good Christians should disavow Pat Robertson, and don’t I go far afield here?).
When I was in the Army I noted that a lot of black men took advantage of the opportunity for a career there while others only saw the opportunity to use charges of race discrimination to get out of doing work.
Today, many black youth seem to think it is more important to be cool and hang out with the wrong crowd than to study at school (of course this goes for youth of all races).
Discrimination has not ended but it is nowhere near what it once was. There is still, and possibly always will be, that natural division among the races, but we do have a black president, and the President of the United States is without question the most powerful person in the world. If that is not progress for the race, I don’t know what is.