When I was in the GOP, there was a belief among many conservatives that racism ended shortly after the Civil Rights Act became law in 1964. The way theory goes, that kind of behavior is now against the law, and people ceased the reprehensible acts of redlining, making Blacks use separate bathrooms, and denying African-Americans jobs based on race.
There is no debate that our society has changed during my lifetime. The good old days that many like to think back upon with warm feelings were not so good if you are an African-American. The days of being called “boy” or “girl” and denied opportunities just because of one’s skin color are not the kinds of things about which one waxes nostalgic.
Racism is not gone. It still exists in America today. Congress can change the law and make a practice illegal. There is no code can be that can alter an attitude.
I saw racism raise its ugly head this past weekend. I am from a small city south of Chicago, Kankakee, Illinois. One hour by car from downtown, situated on a beautiful river, the town used to be prosperous. With the closing of factories in the 1970s and 1980s, the jobs, and prosperity went away.
Kankakee went from winning awards for the best small city in America to appearing on lists for the worst place to live in America. The talented young finished high school left for college and sought opportunity elsewhere. Property values dropped, and people from Chicago who are trying to flee the violence and crime of Chicago pour in.
Many who came from the Chicago are African-Americans. Some are not those seeking a calmer life in a small town and belonged to gangs on mean city streets. They brought gangs, drugs, and violence with them. Now, Kankakee is a miniature Chicago regarding the challenges local law enforcement faces.
Someone posted a video of a fight at a local Jewel supermarket in Kankakee. Two African-American males got into a fight over an issue about a parking space. The spat ended up inside the store, and the battle began.
Amid all the posts proclaiming how awful it was that people were fighting in the market, one post stands out. A man white man stated, “Blacks wonder why we think they are violent?”
Someone tagged me in his post. I stared at the words and wondered what kind of person could write such a thing? A few years ago, road rage was a problem in America. People would fight, and sometimes kill over a parking spot, or getting cut off in traffic.
When white people fight over some traffic outrage, then it is road rage. When two African-Americans fight over the same issue, it becomes “Blacks are violent.” The poster said, “Sorry, that is my opinion.” Yes, it is his opinion, and it is the opinion of a bigot.
In today’s political environment, “It is my opinion,” has become the racists dog-whistle attempting to put an OK spin on racist views. All the qualifiers in the world do not make it right.
The man who made the racist comment did not take into account the video was posted by an African-American, and he overlooked all the words of condemnation of the fight from Blacks on the thread. He saw it, and for him, it reaffirmed a racist view, and he smeared those who also condemned the incident with his blanket judgment.
Yes, we can make a practice illegal, but changing hearts and minds is a slow, multigenerational process.
Some African-Americans are helping to slow the change in attitudes with their behavior. In the same little town, within 24 hours, a false charge of racism is being leveled at the Kankakee Public Schools by a local African-American community activist.
At issue is a principal of a school. The chart on the left, courtesy of Kankakee School District 111, shows the gains in minority employment in the local school system. The African-American Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Genevra Walters, is bringing to a vote of the school board a recommendation to make a personnel change in the leadership of one of their schools.
The Principal in question is African-American, and the seven-person school board has five Black Members who will be voting on the change. Somehow in the mind of a local activist who has garnered support for his cause from African-American churches, this is racism.
In a lengthy, often rambling tome on social media, he is leveling the charges of racial bias as though Jim Crow himself was the Administrator, and the School Board is worshiping the graven images of George Wallace and Lester Maddox. An administrator has the absolute right to change the team to maximize the learning experience for the students.
As the chart above, which are the official numbers for employment in the school system vs. race, Kankakee Public Schools are a model for racial advancement in professions that other districts should emulate.
Charging racism when there is no racism is a dangerous practice. Because someone is a minority does not mean a person is above criticism or performance is above question.
In the 1990s, Congressman Mel Reynolds, also of Illinois, was charged with kiddie porn and trying to persuade a minor to get nude photos of a 15-year-old. Mr. Reynold’s defense was that the charges are racially motivated.
That defense did not fly for Congressman Reynolds, any more than the accusation in Kankakee Schools of discrimination holds any merit whatsoever.
Falsely claiming racism is a dangerous practice. Does it encourage the racists, who use the tactic to say, “See? They claim racism when there is no racism, and therefore the charges are always false.”
It is the little boys and girls who cry wolf. One day when the wolf does appear, nobody will respond.
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