True Equality? Dream on.

Yeah, we’ve turned into a country where everyone has an equal opportunity for success. If you fail at life (poor job, turn to crime, become an unmarried mother) then it is your fault exclusively. The rest of society owes you nothing, and we are justified in looking down our noses at you, enabling us to ridicule you as useless eaters.

This is the mantra for millions of people in this country. We have an entire political party that believes in entitlement – for its members, since only its members are true Americans. Everyone else is a fraud, an unworthy person who really doesn’t deserve to share in the citizenship bestowed upon those who are truly exceptional.

Of course, one of the advantages (or curses, depending upon viewpoint) of living long enough is that I’ve seen how things used to be. And up until the early 1960’s, this country enabled overt racism. In the southern states, the famous Jim Crow laws governed life. People of color could not vote, and woe be anyone who stepped out of place and thought themselves to be uppity. I remember the infamous Bull Connor and the fire hoses aimed at demonstrators. After college, I moved to Memphis in the mid 1970’s and saw sharecropper shanties if I took an alternate road back to my middle-class white apartment complex. If I wanted to go to northern Mississippi, I saw rows of houses with sugar creeks of sewage running in front of the pitiful houses. This was circa 1985.

In the north, discrimination was no less odious. The practice of redlining meant that blacks were shunted into districts where they could be neglected. Neighborhood schools reflected the relative wealth of those neighborhoods. White suburbs have sparkling new schools, while the inner-city schools show nothing but the apathy of the governing classes, allowing them to deteriorate even faster than the housing projects they serve. When an attempt was made to make experiences more equal by instituting busing, we saw rejection of that practice in northern as well as southern cities.

Other governmental solutions saw poor results. Affirmative action rubbed those who believed in meritocracy, as a solution in search of a problem. Many refused to believe that talent could be found in all demographic groups, and that poor test scores were more a reflection of economics than a reflection of character. You saw much zero-sum philosophizing aimed at instilling rage among the privileged classes. Every hire of a minority was unearned, and took a job opportunity from a worthy white applicant.

So now, in the 2020’s, we are told to believe exclusively in achievement as the marker for advancement in society. We’ve achieved our color-blind society. And if you can’t achieve according to the norms accepted by white society, you are unworthy and never will amount to anything. But we are intended to believe none of the differences we now see between races and other groups represents the system being rigged. Why, all of these folks just need to accept their place in society, which of course is below those of us who had all of the benefits.

Reparations is suggested as a way we can even up the playing field. Unfortunately, I see reparations that are resented by those who would give them as a poor substitute for real equality. Instead, I would rather see an effort made to equalize opportunity by truly improving the one system we have to give people bootstraps to tug on. If we as a nation decided to spend the funds we are considering for reparations, and instead spent it on new educational facilities with teacher’s salaries aimed at attracting those residing in the right-hand side of the IQ curve, then I think we can expect better results in a generation or two.

But to say that, well, these people have had rights for 50-60 years with little to show for it so we should forget ever trying to give those ungrateful people anything. They will always destroy anything good we give them. These attitudes have always been present in US society. The political and social media changes over the past decade have enabled these attitudes to become respectable, and unleashed. Their vitriol poisons our public discourse, and now threatens to forbid the newer generations from even learning about how our nation gained the warts we still live with.

I cannot abide those who diminish the experiences of those in the lower, working classes. I have shown the national income distribution, where nearly 40% of the nation lives on an income of less than $50,000 per year. It is no wonder so many folks have trouble saving for the future – they are too busy working full-time jobs and trying to afford even a moderate life-style in the present. Look, there will always be those who game the system and are willing to live on the scraps left to them by the upper classes. You can consider them to be parasites. But so many of our fellow citizens are stuck in low-paying occupations, where any pathway towards success is iffy at best. To condemn those who are hard working to a life of poverty is not fair, and does not reward their efforts. Too many times we castigate those who find themselves in a life with few options for improvement. For once, I’d like to see us honor both hard work, and family formation, through governmental policies which actually reinforce values we would like shared across our nation. To impose only punitive policies is like providing only thoughts and prayers on the issue of guns and expect positive results. It just will not happen.

Selma Lives!

Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Justin Jones, Rep. Gloria Johnson People hold their hands up as they exit the House Chamber doors at the Tennessee State Capitol Building, in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. April 3, 2023. Nicole Hester/USA Today Network via REUTERS.

Bull Connor was resurrected this week. It had been years since his name had crossed my mind, but after the events in the Tennessee house, he came back uninvited into my consciousness. He was also mentioned by cable news commentators, along with the images of the fire hoses being used against civil rights demonstrators. It was telling that it took images of 60 years ago to match what was happening in Nashville.

I spent 10 years in Memphis. The district that just got “unrepresented” was not one I lived in, but if I lived there now, it would be familiar to me. The 86th legislative district was the one that Justin Pearson represented, and now has no representation in the Tennessee house. That district was gerrymandered to include the industrial lands next to the Mississippi River, downtown Memphis, and a swath of land along the river and up into a county adjacent to Shelby County (home to Memphis). My old workplace along the Loosahatchie River is currently without representation.

As I watched cable news coverage, they were in split-screen mode. Those who were pontificating were on one side, while images of the speakers in the Tennessee Assembly were shown on the other. The sound was off in that chamber, but it was apparent through the shaking of fists, and the clenched jaws of the speakers, raw hatred was being expressed. Raw hatred against three individuals who dared to stand up and challenge the one-sided nature of legislative discussion after the murders in the Nashville church-based school. In the end, the two black males were on the losing end of the vote, and their expulsion from the chamber was completed. The white woman who had joined the two in violating the decorum of the house chamber? She received just enough votes to avoid being expelled as well. So the final score was one white woman allowed to stay, two young black males sent packing. As the remaining female legislator said, the result was probably related to the color of her skin.

My knowledge of Tennessee politics ended nearly 40 years ago when I moved away. I was there when the newly elected governor of Tennessee took over earlier than anticipated (three days prior to the scheduled inauguration day), in order to forestall then-governor Ray Blanton from selling any more pardons. Fortunately, he was held accountable for some of his multitude of crimes, although not for pardon sales. Yes, he was a Democratic party member, but I was very glad to see the Republican Lamar Alexander take over. Back then the crime and grift was equal opportunity, and all politicians were suspect regardless of party affiliation. Now, however, it does seem like one party is inclined to use their power for one purpose only – to maintain said power.

White privilege is debated often. States have gone to extraordinary lengths to deny its existence, so much so that in Florida, you may not discuss in the classroom anything that could bring discomfort to the youth of that state (those who just happen to be white). The party that decries cancel culture, is guilty of cancelling anything that presents a challenge to the lily pure image being presented by the dominant class. Snowflakes cannot stand any warmth of reality, else they melt away.

I am old enough to remember seeing the fire hoses used against demonstrators. I felt awful that a group of people had to put up with such vile hatred in order to gain a semblance of citizenship. At the age of 8, I was only capable of thinking that could not happen in the state of Nebraska, where I lived. I had to be older to learn that the same feelings existed even in my state, though they were expressed with less overt violence. Somehow I managed to live through learning of the imperfections of our nation. Still I retained the belief that things were getting better, and we would soon embody the post-racial world Dr. King discussed. But events like those in Nashville show how far away we are from truly becoming a post-racial society. They replace the images of Barack Obama with those of Bull Connor, letting us know we are drifting back to a world we believed we had left behind. Who will be the voices we hear in the 2020’s that will match that of Dr. King? If we continue to follow the racism as expressed in the Tennessee Assembly, it may be a long time before we ever can accept our ongoing participation in the American sin. There is a call for reparations now. Yeah, let’s go throw money at the problem. Seems like that is our answer to everything. Let me say now, reparations without repairing the schism in our hearts will not bring about true equality. We now see so many who do not want equality, who will not accept the founding principles of our nation. And they are the ones who are gaming the system to ensure their continued occupation in the lead coach. Unfortunately, if we follow their lead, it will be towards national derailment and ultimate ruin.