Thursday, January 3, 2019

2019 Divided We Stand

It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and again down through history. Let us rise to the call for freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South… I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.
George Wallace

George Wallace was right! Not the sick and dying Wallace who apologized at the end of his life for the role he played in spreading racism and bigotry, but the younger, fitter champion of the segregationist and populist movements in the south. As a Black man, it pains me to admit this.

Race relations are better today than when George Wallace was sworn into office as the 45th Governor of Alabama, but in many ways our society is just as segregated. The push for Civil Rights and equal access to resources was the right thing to do, but I’m starting to question the notion of a fully integrated society. I don't understand why some Black people so obsessed with the idea of assimilating into social clubs and organizations that want to remain separate?

Black bodies in predominantly white spaces are almost always scrutinized and policed in ways that make it crystal clear our presence is not welcomed. Over the last calendar year, we have been bombarded with cellphone videos of Black people being detained, forcibly removed and even arrested. These incidents have taken place in coffee houses, gyms, hotels, parks and golf courses. Each of these transgressions was followed by a lawyerly crafted apology and a promise of more diversity/sensitivity training.

At the end of 2018, a story about an all-white rifle club denying membership to a Black medical doctor made the rounds. Dr. Melvin Brown is an accomplished man. He graduated with an engineering degree, served 20 years in the Navy and is a member of the Medical University of South Carolina Board of Trustees. He was nominated for membership by a friend. There were 13 other people up for membership on the night he was denied admittance into the club. He was the only person rejected. He was the only Black person. A lot of people were upset by the blatant racism on display. I didn't care then and I don’t care now. Civil rights leaders didn't march, protest and die so bourgeois Black people could join the good old boys club. The risked their lives for equal treatment under the law.

Dr. Brown's story highlights what’s wrong with an overly assimilationist mentality. In 2019, Black people need to focus more on appreciating ourselves than seeking the acceptance of others. I understand the mystique and allure of navigating what was once forbidden territory. For some Black people, white acceptance is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Internalizing America's lies about Blackness is the psychological equivalent of breathing in poisonous gases. Sadly, too many of our brothers and sisters believe the grass is greener and that water freezes at a lower temperature in the presence of white people.

It would be nice if America took Dr. King's dream and added a dash of Rodney King's dream. We would all be judged on the merits of our character while getting along. There's nothing wrong with closing your eyes (and in the words of John Lennon) imagining, but I would suggest waking up before your wake up call. The last three years have seen a spike in hate crimes. Black people are being surveilled and questioned by people with no legal authority to do so. It's one thing to deal with these issues in every day life, but to put yourself in harm’s way for the sake of “prestige” seems a bit needy.

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