Saturday, March 22, 2008

Understanding the Wright/Obama backlash

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. That was 54 years ago this coming May. By the time any kids born after May 1954 were in kindergarten, Cooper v Aaron had established federal court enforcement of desegregation. So right now, anybody under the age of 53 never lived in a time when segregated schools were legal. We can tack on about four years to that number to account for kids between birth and kindergarten. So, anybody born after May 1950 never went to school when segregation was legal. At least by the mid 1960s, it became clear that those who intended to desegregate the schools meant business. In the meantime, rulings like Boynton v Virginia (1960) and Heart of Atlanta Motel v United States(1964) also outlawed segregation in public accommodations. Jim Crow in all of its forms was completely and utterly illegal by 1964.

So that makes it that people under the age of 44 have never lived under Jim Crow. Furthermore, if your memories of childhood only go back to about 3 years of age, people under the age of 47 would have no memory of Jim Crow in any form at all.

But let's give 44 as the oldest people who have ever lived under Jim Crow, even if in diapers. 44-year-olds are anything but inexperienced kids. They are middle and upper-middle management, and the guys likely to be making the hiring decisions in 2008. The kids born after Brown but not before Heart of Atlanta? They are upper management, planning their childrens' weddings, and welcoming their first grandchildren. Yes, people who never went to segregated public schools are now becoming grandparents. In about 15-18 years, there will be families with three generations of voters who never knew segregated schools, and Jim Crow will start to pass out of living memory.

Let's look at the attitudes of these44/50/55 and younger White voters who never availed themselves of a "Whites Only" accommodation, who themselves cringed a bit when Mom or Grandma may have used a rude term to refer to other races, and who themselves made efforts not to be racist. They, or should I say, "we," my being one of them, sat in the same schools with Black kids like Barak Obama (born 1961). We sat in the same classrooms with the same teachers that doubtless some Trinity churchgoer is now denouncing as denying him educational opportunities.

We also participated in the therapeutic culture of the 70s and onward. Part and parcel of that culture involved separating ones self and ones own needs from those of others, and feeling no guilt about saying "no" to excessive and abusive demands. Heck, we've even been saying "no" to quite reasonable demands.

So when we Post-Boomers hear the ravings of Jeremiah Wright, and see a few of our old classmates among those cheering when he said , "God Damn America," and denouncing America as a hopelessly racist society, this was a shot across our bows. What we heard was a declaration of, "I refuse to accept any attempt you might make to reconcile with me. I have declared you are hopeless." The last time someone whose approval we would like to have declared to us that we were completely hopeless, and that nothing we could do was good enough, divorce papers were served within the week. At our request. Evocation of guilt has diminishing returns with a generation programmed not to respond to it.

One of the biggest appeals of Barak Obama to post-Boomer voters up until now has been the hope of moving on to a discussion on race that did not involve impossible expectations and eternal grievance. We liked our Black classmates. We like our Black coworkers. We really like our Black friends and neighbors. We like our kids' Black friends. And for some of us, if we didn't love our Black spouses, we had no business marrying them. And if our relatives have Black spouses, that means we have Black relatives. And we love them too, or about as much as we love anybody our brother or sister marries. We would love to have some kind of reconciliation with our past, and a way to move into the future with these people we honestly care about.

Unfortunately, his association with Rev. Wright seems to show that Barak Obama is as tied to the old ways of evoking eternal guilt through endless and eternal grievance as any Boomer who actually lived under segregation. Good luck with that.


Debbie said...

This is an excellent article and should be ready by everybody. I'm posting a link so maybe folks will come over and visit.

Thanks and have a blessed Easter.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

RememberSekhmet said...

Thanks, Debbie!