How many of you are aware that Albert Einstein taught a physics class at Lincoln University (an HBCU in Pennsylvania) in 1946? In doing so, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist once said, “The separation of the races is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.” Another noted figure, Martin Luther King, once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” But we have become silent, for I don’t see the human outcry about where we are today. We have become generations of me –“What’s in it for me?”– as opposed to “What’s in it for us?” We wait until injustices are on our doorsteps before we say anything to prevent those injustices from occurring. As my grandmother use to say, and I know many others said it, too, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
My two greatest fears on the night that Presidential Candidate Barack Obama was elected President of these United States were that first, some maniac would shoot him on Inauguration Day and second, segments of white America would rise up as they did during the Reconstruction Era to “Take Back America.” Well think about all that we are seeing today. The mantra during the Reconstruction Era was something along the lines of “America is going to hell in a hand-basket.” Are there any similarities? With Reconstruction, America entered into an era of “Jim Crow.” The era did not just impact former slaves, but poor whites, as well. We sometimes forget that fact, and because of it, the forces of divide and conquer continue to win. Is history repeating itself?
As in the Reconstruction, the agenda we continue to see today is based on lies, distortion and deception. And, there are lies, distortions and deception on both sides, the key exception is doe don’t see what side attempting to take away the rights of citizens to vote. Yet, both action are allowing the truth to hidden and the America Dream to be destroyed.
I still go back to what Benjamin Franklin said just before his death, and wonder if we will ever be able to right this ship. It is an issue that we continue to fail to address. Franklin said that until we really deal with the issue of race and the impact it continues to have on our society, we will continue to suffer as a nation, and that it would get worse as time moved forward. One can’t say that things have improved. African Americans went from being slaves to second-class citizens to almost citizens with the passage of the second set of civil rights laws. For those who are not aware, after the Civil War, several Civil Right Acts were passed. The Civil Rights Bill of 1866, although vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, Congress overrode the veto. Congress passed this bill to protect the civil rights of the newly freed slaves. The ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868 granted citizenship to African Americans and the 15th Amendment ratified in 1870 gave African Americans the right to vote. The Enforcement Act of 1870 enforced African Americans’ right to vote, followed by two additional Enforcement Acts; the latter passed in 1871 and gave the federal government the legal right to go after the Ku Klux Klan. Then came the most extensive civil rights act ever passed in the country, prior to those passed in the 20th Century, the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The act guaranteed African Americans equal treatment in public accommodations and public transportation, and prohibited exclusion from jury service and so on. Sound familiar?? In 1883, the Supreme Court decided the act was unconstitutional. The decision was based on the belief that Congress could prohibit discrimination by the state, but a belief that the federal government did not have the power to prohibit discrimination by private individuals. So again, I ask, is history repeating itself?
In a way, I both agree and disagree with Einstein. Discrimination that continues to exist today is a disease that is contributed to by both races. However, the primary cure for the disease rests squarely with white people. As a white colleague recently said to me, the first step in ridding yourself of an addiction, is realizing that you are an addict. Biases are an addiction, but in some cases, being white provides you with an unconscious benefit that you don’t realize that you have until you are in a situation where it becomes obvious, such as when all of your peers are from a diverse background. Then you are forced to come face to face with your addiction. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the stratosphere of leadership in this nation. That is why I say the cure to the disease squarely rests with the majority of white Americans, especially those in leadership positions. And finally, please don’t say it was mean. Yes, it wasn’t you, but you have and continue to benefit. That is the reality of the situation whether you like it or not.