In previous columns, I have chronicled the days of segregation. The injustice was not only incredible; it was legally sanctioned. Most people under 50 hardly know what segregation was like. Neither can they know how starkly unfounded are the rantings of Sharpton, Jackson and Tavis Smiley. My purpose is to emphasize how they and President Obama are making things worse instead of better, and how they are saying “No thanks!” to citizens, including white conservatives, who have worked diligently to promote racial harmony.
Sharpton, Jackson, Smiley and the president appear blind to America’s racial progress. Their rhetorical die is cast. They have staked out a position of “us and them.” Neither Sharpton, Smiley nor the president is old enough to have seen the worst of segregation. The president could not possibly know how bad it was since he did not grow up on the mainland. He knows the stories well, but the pain he does not.
Jackson knows the pain. We must give him that. But rather than acknowledge progress as some prominent blacks have (Alan West, Thomas Sowell, Herman Cain, Shelby Steele and others), he and Sharpton have remained the hucksters they always were. Race is their industry. Their financial success and fame give the lie to what they say. If things haven’t improved, how, for heaven’s sake, have they reached the pinnacle of celebrity?
Consider the following description of segregation and determine whether or not these men should celebrate, rather than look back in anger.
Segregation meant black schools and white schools. It meant “the black section” of town, “Whites Only” water fountains and separate ticket lines for “Whites” and “Coloreds” at interstate commerce establishments like Trailways bus stations.
It meant poll taxes, unpaved dirt streets in the “black section,” and — most heart-rending of all — a “Yassuh” from grown black men even to small white boys.
It also meant no blacks in positions of leadership except as principals of black schools. In brief, it was the old British-to-Asian colonialism writ large here in America. See the movie, “The Help.” Its portrayal of the segregation era was accurate, or at least it portrayed accurately what I witnessed.
My sense of betrayal and frustration lies in the total failure of our first black president to be the reconciler he could have been. Obama is in office because of white voters. Instead of reveling in what this says about white America, he has chosen recently to cater to black racists.
During his first presidential campaign, Obama eschewed the divisive rhetoric for which Jackson, Sharpton and others are known. Because of his approach to race, I actually believed that my own feeble efforts to promote justice, my two sons’ commendable outreach to all races, and the changing attitudes on race generally would help cool the hot heads. Since Obama’s re-election, however, he has blown it. Though absent of Sharpton’s acrimony, the president has injected himself into issues such as the Trayvon Martin case and has become a divider.
Because of the tack he has chosen, the president has wasted much of his capital, but there is a way he can redeem himself and he has the time to do it. The image that he and his attractive family have displayed is a positive one, but we need more than imagery.
Commendably, regarding family, the president has walked the walk; now he needs to talk the talk. The president needs to address the fact that 73 percent of black children are born out of wedlock. We hardly need to discuss the personal hardship and social implications this fact has led to.
Yes, the president needs to speak frankly to black youth and their parents. This will require leadership. The president must also accept and address the fact that a good 50 percent of crime in America is committed by 13 percent of the population, specifically young black men.
These facts are angrily dismissed by Sharpton and company, and that’s why the president should separate himself from the self-designated reverend, and attempt to solve a problem that so direly needs solving.
In my neighborhood and everywhere I go, I see black and white citizens getting along quite well. The president needs to work from this reality, not from the inflammatory words of the titans.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.