Richmond, Va (RVA Independent Media) A persistent ill in US society, racism and the actions it inspires continues to divide a nation some 54 years after the passage of the historical Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Driven by persistent and evident social and political inequality, African Americans boldly fought, and won, their rights to full participation in civil society.
But this victory has done little to erase the generational legacy of racism.
Equality has not brought acceptance and, sadly, it has not brought resolution.
Instead, faced with a wall of denial, many African Americans suffer from many of the same prejudices and the consequences thereof as the Civil Rights generation.
A lot of the problem stems from a pervasive ignorance about history and current conditions. This ignorance has transformed everything into a combative battle with political overtones. Every issue is coded in terms of right versus left or liberal versus conservative.
What has made dialogue so difficult in this modern era?
There are probably many reasons to explain that, or at least attempt to do so.
One theme that is certain is that there is a divide in the perception of objective reality.
One side does not even see the problem as a real thing. The other side suffers because of the problem and due to this willful ignorance.
And this pattern is nothing new but, rather, a repetition of a historical ill that is coming back with increased ferocity.
Lady Love, host of the BeUnique Magazine and Radio Show podcast, cited the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit,” a protest anthem based on a poem by Abel Meeropol, as an example of the kinds of visceral violence that were ignored back then.
She then relates the conditions described in the song to the willful ignorance of some in American society to the plight of African Americans today.
The poem upon which “Strange Fruit” is based was an expression of disgust by Meeropol at the lynchings he saw in a famous photograph by Lawrence Beitler. Beitler photographed the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana and the photograph is raw, harrowing depiction of mob violence.
One of the most iconic images showing mob violence ever captured, the picture does an amazing job at conveying the dearth of humanity the coagulates in lynchings and mob violence.
As discussed in Lady Love’s podcast, mob violence, and its effects, have long victimized the black community in the United States.
Central to this violence is hatred, which gives rise to racism.
Hate crimes legislation addresses the problem after the fact, and that makes it an inadequate solution.
Beyond that is an institutional willingness to ignore the problem.
Then as now, the police are often accused of nonintervention, or even allowing the other side free reign.
This kind of hands-off approach leads to mob violence, as witnessed most recently in Charlottesville.
There, the police were largely hands off as a mob grew increasingly out of control, resulting in the death of Heather Heyer.
The protests, centered around the removal of a Confederate memorial, were not only emblematic of current race relations in America but also demonstrative of how deep and widespread the problem of hate and racism is in the country.
Coming from every part of the nation, many of the protestors were gathered in support of keeping the Confederate statue up.
This group of people represented a wide swath of the population, and many were from well outside of the traditional, geographical South.
Indeed, one had to wonder what people from as far away as Ohio and Michigan thought the South had to do with their states’ histories. Participants on the side of the Union in the Civil War, many of the states outside of the historical Confederate States of America were actively part of the effort to crush the South and its institutional slavery.
The only salient fact that could possibly explain their defense of something from the CSA as “heritage” is that the Confederate States of America fought and died to preserve a system predicated upon oppression of black people through slavery. And if that isn’t an expression of deep seated hatred towards a group of people, it’s hard to find a better example.
Black Lives Matter, an organization raising awareness of police treatment of black individuals, has highlighted this widespread institutional issue of ignorance and popular denial.
It impacts everything in society in the United States, from the authorities to the educational system. Hatred, and the racism it breeds, by default limits participation by African Americans in civil society.
Coming back to the themes of civil rights and participation in society, the question becomes “who has rights?” and “who has access to civil society?”
Using a quote from the Christian thinker and theologian, Saint Augustine, Lady Love’s podcast quotes that “An unjust law is no law at all.”
This is why the common tension in protests launched by African American groups to demand change as well as bring awareness to issues centers on civil disobedience versus disregard for the authority of an unjust law.
It is well established that expressions of hatred and racism are socially unacceptable but this doesn’t explain why hate crimes are on the rise and racist statements and actions are marching right in step with them.
The recent shooting at a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reminded many of the deadly Charleston, South Carolina church shooting by Dylann Roof.
A domestic terrorist by any stretch of the definition, Roof’s ties to extremist hate groups were well-documented and extensive. Roof made no effort to disclose his beliefs or his inclinations.
Sheltered in a cocoon of like-minded racists online, Roof was radicalized to violence by people preying on his ignorance, hatred, and the eventual murderous, racist rage that prompted him to target a predominantly African American church on that Sunday morning in 2015.
Hate crimes laws would not have prevented Dylann Roof from becoming radicalized, but labeling him a terrorist might be a step in the right direction.
The deadly shooting in Squirrel Hill, motivated by anti-semitism engendered through a process of online radicalization quite similar to that of Dylann Roof, can only be called a terrorist act as well.
The rise in hate crimes and violence towards minorities that has followed the 2016 presidential election in the United States is quite unprecedented.
What Lady Love advocates for is unity. Unity among all those who are the victims of racially motivated violence and those who are opposed to it.
Demanding real change rather than accepting platitudes and the status quo is the only way forward. In a call that mirrors the charge that lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the voices of millions must be heard shouting as one: “Enough is enough.”
It isn’t enough to hope for a better tomorrow and it is insufficient to wait for it to develop on its own.
The podcast identifies a very concrete and real problem in the United States.
It is a kind of social disaffection that is leading to ignorance, hatred, and racism, all of which are culminating in destructive acts of violence.
The inability to objectively agree on the facts of the reality, or on the nature of the problem itself, are making it hard to achieve change.
Like the song cited in the beginning, it is almost impossible to ignore the common themes to violence and oppression today just like then.
The detachment from reality is not something purely imagined, either.
Take recently elected Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn’s comments as an excellent example of the divide in America.
Asked about what to do to prevent events like the massacre at a Thousand Oaks, Marsha Blackburn said, “What we do is say, how do we make certain that we protect the Second Amendment and protect our citizens.”
The Second Amendment is interpreted by a segment of the American population as giving them a certain unlimited access to guns. In essence, Senator Blackburn is saying that it is most important to protect the right of a citizen to buy and own a gun. Thousands Oaks shooter Ian Long had legal access to guns and Dylann Roof obtained one quite easily by exploiting a “background check flaw.”
According to Blackburn, the right to obtain the weapons used in both massacres needs to be protected.
It is a similar willingness to ignorance to the “bitter fruit” of violence and rage that is expressed in the song “Strange Fruit.”
Then, as now, only collective action will change the course of this country’s current political direction. Because, as the song describes, people are ready to ignore the harvest of their ignorance and this will only lead to more, and worse, violence in the future.