Not Even Past

Joe Klein calls for addressing race relations in a “thoughtful, provocative way”:

You can’t convict a terrified, undertrained cop of murder for trying to defend himself, if that’s what the facts show–but all too often in the past, we’ve exonerated racist thugs who were clearly guilty. We can’t ignore the barbarity that got us here: lynching was a fact, too, not a metaphor. Oddly, the election of Barack Obama–poor guy–has blunted the conversation about race relations, at least on the white side. We elected a black man with a Muslim name to be President. What other country would do that? The conversation has also been blunted, honorably, by the President himself in the face of some of the most tawdry race-baiting since Selma. And it has been blunted by leaders of the black community, who don’t want to harm Obama’s presidency by criticizing him. In a recent New Republic article, Jason Zengerle makes a strong case that hatred of Obama mobilized Alabama conservatives to take over the state legislature in 2010 and strip black officials of the power they had gained since the 1960s.

How’s this for provocative? We don’t have a problem with race relations. Our problem is the bungling of the aftermath of the American Civil War. We have never, here’s that word, integrated the sons and daughters of former slaves into the fabric of American society.

As long as we treat the problem as one of race relations rather than the problems we’ve imposed upon some black people we will continue to proffer solutions that benefit people who do not belong to the group of black people experiencing the problems and haven’t experienced those problems. e.g. Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and Colin Powell (the son of Jamaican immigrants).

As Faulkner put it, the past is never dead. It isn’t even past.

11 comments… add one
  • steve Link

    Our best bet is that the old people carrying around all the anger will die off.


  • PD Shaw Link


    Michael Brown, Jr.: Age 18
    Darren Wilson: Age 28

    I may be missing your point, but I don’t believe that mankind’s moral drift is necessarily upward. Sometimes things go up, and then they go down. One problem is that while America has perhaps the most significant racial issues in the world, racism is not an American invention and appears to exist independent of American experience.

    And youth are violent. Old people are simply cantankerous. For example, young people are almost always more supportive of military action.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I don’t know if I would subscribe to “We don’t have a problem with race relations,” but I do think that race has been such a big issue in the American experience, that we can be insensitive to other factors.

    For example, “lynching” is not a racial phenomena; it pre-exists problem of race, and the fact that many blacks suffered from it does not alter some of its basic patterns. “Lynching” stems from the anxiety that the law is corrupted, and matters must be taken into their own hands to protect a social order that exists independent of the law. This impulse is within the protesters of Ferguson, they feel like many before them, white or black, that their fears and concerns are not addressed, and they were promised by America something different. The protesters of Ferguson have not stormed the cop’s home.

    America is a violent country, and has been from its founding. More so than almost any place on Earth that is considered at peace. We may want to wonder why that has been true for hundreds of years.

  • The protesters of Ferguson have not stormed the cop’s home.

    Possibly because most of the violent are from somewhere other than Ferguson.

    I’m actually suggesting something else, PD. We have a problem with race but it isn’t race as such. It’s race+. Although nearly all of the people who are victims of this problem are black not everyone who is black is a victim of it.

  • jan Link

    It seems to me that we put race before injustice. Consequently when an incident is judged the first aspect considered is “color.” Secondarily, are the considerations of fairness, criminality and so on. Consequently, IMO, there is more reverse discrimination, polarization of factual information oftentimes going on, ratcheting up even greater resentment and misunderstandings between races in this country. It becomes a continuous loop between people of different skin hues, only digging wounds of the past in deeper and deeper.

    Our best bet is that the old people carrying around all the anger will die off.

    That is one of the silliest and most uneducated comments ever posted here.

  • steve Link

    “I may be missing your point, but I don’t believe that mankind’s moral drift is necessarily upward.”

    The angriest people most opposed to reconciliation are older. They lived during Jim Crow and don’t want blacks to be equal. They suffered under Jim Crow and want revenge. They teach this to their kids and grandkids. As they die off, we will only have people who have memories of it, not direct experience. This won’t be a 100% thing. It won’t happen all at once, but it will happen gradually. White and black couldn’t marry 60 years ago. Now it is common as dirt. 60 years ago black people had few prominent jobs, now they do. 60 years ago, while you had MLK, you have to remember that we also had Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. That is all fading but the anger, the fire, is still carried by a lot of those oldsters.

    Look at it this way, it is not so much that our moral drift is upwards, it is just a matter of familiarity. I think I was probably 19 or 20 before I met someone who was (sort of) openly gay. Gays used to be virtually all in the closet. We hated them, even though we didn’t know what they were. They had a blanket party in boot camp for a kid they just suspected of being gay, well actually a fag since that is what we called them then. Anyway, now we see them on TV all the time and I bet almost everyone knows someone who is gay. Guess what? While there are still a few gay haters, most people don’t hate them anymore. They even are allowed to marry now.

    Working in coal country has been illuminating. People are, for the most part, dirt poor. They really appreciate us coming up and working there. They have invited us into their homes and several of us have gotten to know them. The old folks still carry all o those old prejudices and are fairly open about it. They, not all but many, hate black people, don’t trust Puerto Ricans, think Jews run the world and still carry the old German/Irish/Welsh/English hatreds. (The Welsh usually ran the mines) But, talk with the kids and grandkids and, for the most part, they don’t share those feelings. They even seem ashamed of their elders.

    BTW, this is hardly an original observation.


  • jan Link

    Steve, if you pick through the populace, in niches here and there, you’re come up with people who will exemplify the prejudices you want to highlight. However, they represent more ‘patches’ filled with personal resentments than what is representative of the content of, achievements and general direction this country has been headed the last 5 decades. And, even as unchanged prejudices may die out with older people (as you inartfully put it), new ones are being cultivated by the behavior of mobs because of the racial acrimony they continue to churn, burn and loot over.

  • PD Shaw Link

    @steve, it is a Whig view of history, where the past was morally repugnant, today is better, and the future most everyone will be as enlightened as me. I subscribe to this view on some things, but generally not race. I am pretty close to the point of believing that racial discrimination will end with total assimilation and intermarriage.

  • steve Link

    PD- I specifically said that it will be a matter of familiarity, not a change in morals. My general view is that some things have gotten better and some worse in the moral arena. I am not really sure if there is a general trend, though I suspect it is getting better. Deaths by violence have decreased, women are no longer chattel in some places, slavery has (mostly) disappeared.


  • steve Link

    jan- New ones are being created by mobs, but not the shooting of unarmed people? Sigh. Anyway, this is clearly not limited to poor folks in coal country. It’s not as bad as Michael claims, but it is real.

  • jan Link


    When Ferguson initially erupted into racial violence, the mobs, the press, the sympathetic liberal contingency seemed to morph into one entity delivering an instant conviction of the young white cop shooting an “unarmed black youth.” Since then details have dripped out which conflict with almost everything originally distilled from the testimony of supposed unbiased onlookers. I don’t know whether you are just interested in validating your own POV, that prejudice continues to rule the justice system in the United States. Or, like me, you want to wait for all the evidence to be sifted through, before making a decision on guilt or innocence of either Brown or Wilson — absent the hype of color of either individual.

    As a young child, however, I was totally shocked when studying the Jim Crow Laws. It was such a alien, unkind way to deal with humanity that I remember writing extra credit reports delving deeper into the details of that time, outlining and then repudiating such injustices. However, what I’m witnessing in current day events is somewhat similar, in that people of color are now threatening whites, having them go underground with sentiments, testimonies that may differ from more racially ginned up ones, in their assessment of what is right and wrong in this black/white criminal confrontation.

    On any occasion, though, is there justification to repress viewpoints or underlying factors because of color? After all, without open, full discussion, free of a politically correct iron hand overseeing pubic commentary, there is really little separation from earlier eras of repressing one’s rights or voice — only this time it’s blacks attempting to overpower and rationalize their misbehavior, rather than whites, who were the ones deeming themselves as the superior race because of ill-conceived, man-made laws.

    It’s all wrong, IMO…..

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