When I was in 7th grade, I had a great history teacher, Mr. Koch. He had the ability to make history come alive and to understand its relevance to today’s world. One thing he did push hard was that you cannot study or understand history if you judge it by current culture/mores. We see this today as we are asked to confront the issues of race in our country and in the discussion on slavery and the Confederacy. Slavery is a blight on America and was the main reason for the Civil War. Regardless of many of the other reasons given for the Civil War, state rights, the lost cause etc. I go with the statement of Barbara J. Fields in Ken Burns Documentary “The Civil War,” “Without slavery there would not have been a Civil War.” Today 155 years after the end of the Civil war and slavery we continue to believe that the culture and mores of the United States have not changed if anything we have become more racist.
The problem with the discussion today is that we judge slavery by modern standards. Yes, slavery is cruel and inhuman. Subjecting humans to slavery, however, is a system that has existed for as long as history has been written and unfortunately still exists today in parts of the world. Removing slavery in the US did not eliminate racism or cure all the ills of its existence. Jim Crow laws, lynching, segregation, and all that followed is the aftershock of slavery. So how does Mr. Koch’s teaching play into this.
Since the “official” end of slavery the plight of black Americans has marched, however slowly, forward toward what is hoped to be a colorblind society. We are not there yet but it is getting better. The other thing history teaches, is that much social unrest. Up to and including revolutions, are driven by increasing yet unmet expectations. The civil rights movement was driven by the slow pace of social reform but was done in such a way that society continued to grow and function. Back at the beginning of the civil rights movement there was not a large black middle class and many blacks lived in poverty. Today the black middle class is the norm with a small portion of African Americans living in poverty.
Today we are subjected to the amorphous term systemic racism. This term is applied to describe any action between black and white America. This along with the terms white privilege and white supremacy are used with total disregard to facts as they exist today. We are shown videos designed to explain systemic racism that include such things as redlining, which has been illegal since the 1960s, unequal education and income tied to racism. The lack of black home ownership is also given as a sign. The facts do not support this in total. Yes, schools in the inner city and poor neighborhoods are not the equal of suburban schools or those in more affluent communities. Yet most blacks do not live in these areas. Yes, most of these areas are black but most blacks today are living in middle class neighborhoods. As to income let us look at a Brookings Institute study.
“Last week’s headlines around the release of new Census Bureau data spotlighted a continued rise in income inequality. The Gini index—a statistical measure of income inequality—rose to its highest recorded level in 50 years, signaling that the distribution of income in the United States is the most uneven it’s been since the Bureau began tracking it in 1967.
That disturbing trend, however, masks the economic progress Black households have made in recent years. In 2018, their median household income (the level at which half of households have higher incomes, and half lower) reached $41,511. While that level only slightly exceeded that (and was statistically unchanged) from 2017, it continued to top 2007’s pre-recession peak for Black median household income of $41,134”
On the other side we see black and minority homeownership has dropped. Homeownership is considered an indicator of wealth and wealth distribution. This drop however followed periods of higher black homeownership.
In another Brookings report on Black Progress we read:
Let’s start with a few contrasting numbers.
“In 1940, 60 percent of employed black women worked as domestic servants; today the number is down to 2.2 percent, while 60 percent hold white- collar jobs.
44 and 1. In 1958, 44 percent of whites said they would move if a black family became their next door neighbor; today the figure is 1 percent.
In 1964, the year the great Civil Rights Act was passed, only 18 percent of whites claimed to have a friend who was black; today 86 percent say they do, while 87 percent of blacks assert they have white friends.
Progress is the largely suppressed story of race and race relations over the past half-century. And thus it’s news that more than 40 percent of African Americans now consider themselves members of the middle class. Forty-two percent own their own homes, a figure that rises to 75 percent if we look just at black married couples. Black two-parent families earn only 13 percent less than those who are white. Almost a third of the black population lives in suburbia.
Because these are facts the media seldom report, the black underclass continues to define black America in the view of much of the public. Many assume blacks live in ghettos, often in high-rise public housing projects. Crime and the welfare checks are seen as their main source of income. The stereotype crosses racial lines. Blacks are even more prone than whites to exaggerate the extent to which African Americans are trapped in inner-city poverty. In a 1991 Gallup poll, about one-fifth of all whites, but almost half of black respondents, said that at least three out of four African Americans were impoverished urban residents. And yet, in reality, blacks who consider themselves to be middle class outnumber those with incomes below the poverty line by a wide margin.”
How does this all relate to race, slavery and the civil war. We can see that, while not perfect, the difference in black status of living has improved and continues to move forward. If, however we continue to look back at the past and continue to treat the problem as if it had never improved, we would fail. Most blacks in America are descendants of slaves, we cannot change that. Slavery is a stain on the soul of America and will not be erased. But understand that the practice of slavery was not considered wrong by the practitioners, so stop judging them by todays standards. Much of the country considered it a moral evil. None of the whites at the time considered the black race equal. There were “scientific” studies at the time to prove the point. This was a starting point. We fought a war, went through reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. It was not until a century after the civil war was there any serious consideration to equal rights. Back in the day systemic racism was the norm, considered a given. Today most whites do not concern themselves with the race of a friend or neighbor. A small minority do, a very small minority.
Another small minority of activists is also working to promote an agenda based on continuing to portray historical facts as current. Racist police exist and minorities have been killed because of them. But a review of the facts indicate that this is not the norm. Today we see lists of blacks who have been subjected to police brutality or assumed to be. Taking all at face value let us consider the number of interactions that the police have with the public daily. What percentage results in an incident that can be ruled racist? In a report in USA Today:
“Self defense may be understandable if the police were engaging in an epidemic of shooting unarmed Black men and women, as we now hear daily — but there is no such epidemic. For the last five years, the police have fatally shot about 1,000 civilians annually, the vast majority of whom were armed or otherwise dangerous. Black people account for about 23% of those shot and killed by police; they are about 13% of the U.S. population.
As of the June 22 update, the Washington Post’s database of fatal police shootings showed 14 unarmed Black victims and 25 unarmed white victims in 2019. The database does not include those killed by other means, like George Floyd.
The number of unarmed Black shooting victims is down 63% from 2015, when the database began. There are about 7,300 Black homicide victims a year. The 14 unarmed victims in fatal police shootings would comprise only 0.2% of that total.”
We need to stop breaking down the population by race. We need to move forward from our past but remember the past and understand it existed. Slavery was evil but those that practice it were not necessary so. It was a part of the norm and ended. Leave the past in the past and move forward to correcting the effects of it. If we continue to live in the past, we will never move forward.
While there is still a difference between Black and White regarding wealth, the gap is closing. We are facing a larger social problem with the second wave of what has been called postmodernism. As one academic put it:
“Postmodernism presents a threat not only to liberal democracy but to modernity itself. That may sound like a bold or even hyperbolic claim, but the reality is that the cluster of ideas and values at the root of postmodernism have broken the bounds of academia and gained great cultural power in western society. The irrational and identitarian “symptoms” of postmodernism are easily recognizable and much criticized, but the ethos underlying them is not well understood. This is partly because postmodernists rarely explain themselves clearly and partly because of the inherent contradictions and inconsistencies of a way of thought which denies a stable reality or reliable knowledge to exist. However, there are consistent ideas at the root of postmodernism and understanding them is essential if we intend to counter them. They underlie the problems we see today in Social Justice Activism, undermine the credibility of the Left and threaten to return us to an irrational and tribal “pre-modern” culture.”
What has generated from this postmodern thinking is the concept of group think, there is only one way of looking at any problem and that it must fit into the current narrative. It can be argued that group think is not new, we have always strived for “the American Way of Life.” The truth is that for 200+ years the American culture has grown and evolved toward one of individual equality. In other words, it was the individual who should be at the center of all discussions. It is the individual who is responsible for their actions. In order to eliminate racism you eliminate race from the interactions of individuals. As Dr. King said we should judge a person by the content of their heart and not the color of his skin.
Today there are many African-Americans who have benefited by this belief. But some have not and the illiberal left has mounted an attack on the country by ignoring history and the advances we have made as a society to engage in the tearing down of the very structure that has made the advancement possible. What needs to be done to help the rest to follow and prosper is to continue to move society forward not stop and try to move backward. The government must learn that it is not necessary to pass laws making lynching illegal, it already is. It must move forward with the traditional liberal beliefs in individualism and equality.
Today we are being inundated with the concepts of the Social Justice movement and Critical Race Theory which proposes that race is not biological but a social construct devised by white supremacist to maintain power and control. To prove this point, we are reminded about past abuses such as slavery and Jim Crow and other past sins, without regard to changes in society. If you are a white person in todays society it is a given you are a racist, either consciously or subconsciously. To make matters worse there is no defense, if you agree, you are a racist, if you disagree you are a racist but do not know it.
The good news is, I believe, that most do not buy into this philosophy, yet. The bad news is that the few who do have hijacked the narrative and that many in political and business leadership roles are willing to make a Faustian bargain with those that are pressing for the most radical/dangerous demands.
History is a guide that is seldom followed. It is more often used as a mallet to ensure reality is deflected. It is twisted and turned and beaten out of shape to ensure people that do not know history are set on the path toward their own destruction. There can be arguments made on both side on the current desire to remove statues of Confederate leaders, I for one have always considered them traitors. But a considered action by a governing body is one thing, the actions of a mob are another. When mob mentality takes hold reason and logic are lost. Take for example the attack on the statue of an abolitionist in Philadelphia or the defacement of the monument to the 56th Massachusetts.
It is time that history be returned to its rightful place, a window to the past and a roadmap to the future. The roadmap will likely look like a set of concentric circles while lopping back on themselves they do manage to move forward. The point is to learn from the past to create a better future. To continually live in the past with a hatred of the present is a weight too heavy to bear on any society. We have taken a giant U-turn in our study and understanding of history and somewhere decided this is where we want to be. I am not sure we have just stopped or taken a turn that is not going forward or back.