June 28, 2022

What are we supposed to do?

During news coverage of the brutal massacre of 10 Black people in Buffalo, New York, I was struck by the anguish of a victim’s son who said, “We try to do our best. We live like good citizens, but it’s never enough. What are we supposed to do?”

What are Black people supposed to do? If they are ever going to be fully accepted in American society, what more do they have to do? What will it take to be considered equal in every way?

I’ve lived a long time, and for my entire life, I’ve seen minorities struggle for equality and acceptance, and the sad truth is, in many ways, it’s not getting any better.

I thought at one time it was improving. When the Civil Rights Act was passed, there were positive changes. Government and private entities were prohibited from discriminating against Blacks and other minorities. Public schools were required to educate children of all races and nationalities. More opportunities opened up for Black men and women in commerce, finance, sports and politics.

I expected laws requiring equal treatment and fairness would enable minorities to achieve many things. And they have achieved great success, but for far too many, it has continued to be a constant, uphill battle.

Prejudice didn’t disappear just because new laws prohibited discrimination. Despite all our advances, prejudice against Black citizens still flourishes in cities and towns all across the country. It’s just usually more subtle than before.

However, in some cases, it’s not subtle at all. Bigotry can be found everywhere in America. In words, deeds and attitudes. On Facebook and Twitter. At ballgames and in coffee shops. My grandson recently overheard a group of older white men complaining about “so many Blacks on television these days.” Especially critical of the commercials depicting mixed-race families, there was absolutely no holding back as they expressed their disapproval.

Prejudice against Black people runs throughout American society but particularly among those who are older, rural and non-college educated. Equality of the races may be regulated by law, but it doesn’t mean hearts and minds have changed. Even after America elected and re-elected a Black President, some hearts and minds remained steadfastly prejudiced - maybe even more so. A post on Twitter recently proclaimed, “All our troubles started with a fake Hawaiian birth certificate.”

The unyielding anger toward migrants from Mexico and South America has its roots in prejudice. Most migrants trying to become American citizens are brown-skinned, can’t speak English and are poor. Many white citizens don’t want them here, even though America desperately needs these hard-working people to fill thousands of jobs.

It’s forgotten that ancestors of nearly all of us living in America today were migrants during the 19th and 20th centuries. Except for Black citizens whose roots in America are far deeper. They began arriving on slave ships in the 1600s.

Enlightened citizens value diversity in America. Those who are not enlightened fear diversity. Remember when Donald Trump said Mexicans coming to the United States were rapists and murderers? Music to the ears of those already against migrants. And continuing today, with Republicans accusing Democrats of trying to replace white voters with those migrants.

They call it Replacement Theory – a term coined by white supremacists.

Those who resent people of color often carefully hide their prejudice, but it’s always there, undermining all the progress we’ve made. When someone is bothered by the races intermingling, working together, learning together, living in the same communities, and intermarrying, they are prejudiced. There’s no other word for it.

We might think the number of such people is small, but it’s not. They’ve been growing in numbers, incited by extremists, and becoming more and more hateful. Decades of negative rhetoric from far-right TV and radio hosts -- and ambitious politicians -- have done their damage. Minds have been warped, attitudes hardened, prejudice reinforced.

In such an environment, it’s not surprising our nation is at war with itself.

Those who remain silent when prejudice is expressed in their presence, fail to live up to American ideals, and fail to follow basic principles of citizenship that were taught to us in kindergarten. Silence gives credence to the remarks being made, and spreads intolerance to others.

Silence gives tacit approval to bigots.