Race relations tenuous

It is Black History Month again. February, the shortest month of the year, is usually an opportunity to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the progress we have made since emancipation. In this article, however, I will not examine the great victories of the Civil Rights Movement, but rather some realities of the past and present.

To begin with, I see one-in-four black males in prison. One is not free while incarcerated, and anybody who has ever seen an episode of Oz on HBO knows this fact all too well. So, with one fourth of the black male population in prison, blacks as a people are not free.

I have seen teachers, students and others gunned down in black schools. However, in the wake of these tragedies, there has been no national referendum, no nationwide malaise or mourning, as there was after the Columbine shootings. On the contrary, I once saw a white construction worker read with great interest about a black-on-black shooting in The Post, shake his head and say, “Those people.”

I have seen black men beaten and murdered by police, and those same police walk away free men, even as we execute minors in some states. I have seen white adults adore black babies and young children; I have seen them commenting that we must end racism for the sake of the children. Then I have seen those same children, upon reaching the age of 13, become, instantaneously in the eyes of white America, delinquents, criminals and threats.

Right here at Williams, I see some students who are significantly less creative and intelligent than non-white New York City dropouts. You can say I am exaggerating, but I know what I have seen. What I do not see is these gifted young people attending Williams.

I have seen blacks called lazy and accused of always being late. For the sake of argument, let us say blacks fit this stereotype. Well, we were not late once in 400 years of slavery, 400 years of chain gangs working 4:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., with a 20-minute lunch break to eat what the pigs would not. We were not late once for 400 years of unpaid labor. Sometimes I wonder if blacks should have to work at all, let alone be accused of not working hard enough.

I see black leaders like the Reverend Al Sharpton mocked by whites, blacks, Hispanics and every other group in New York City, but I do not see anyone mocking FDR, the man who presided over the creation of segregated ghettos and suburbs in every major American city during the Depression. Real estate agencies, scared silly during the Depression, basically said, “Hey, how about we make a rule lowering property values in integrated neighborhoods. That way, good American whites in neighborhoods with ‘undesirables’ will move to the suburbs and buy our houses. Then we can charge those left behind more for poorer services, because it is not as though they will be welcomed in nicer communities anymore.

“As for blacks, Hispanics and Jews in mainly white neighborhoods, I guess they will just have to watch their backs when their neighbors start fire-bombing them out.” This policy was called red-lining. It happened; look it up. Now I am not sure about the degree of FDR’s complicity, but he let it happen; he allowed the living space of the majority of this country’s people be irreversibly segregated to placate some scared real estate agencies. Why isn’t anyone criticizing him and his legacy, I wonder?

To conclude, I want to address two hot topics that would not be so hot if this nation were not so racist: affirmative action and reparations.

As for affirmative action, let us look first at the legacy; given that we allegedly kicked the nobility out a while ago, why is the school your parents attended a deciding factor in where you go to school? The justifications for affirmative action could fill a report hundreds of thousands of pages long. Again, one has to wonder why blacks are taking all the heat in debates over college admittance policies.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying your average white person is responsible for slavery, or even that he should feel guilty (don’t worry, he doesn’t). So, if your average Joe is not responsible for 550 years of oppression, the government surely is. They are spending $250 billion annually on the military right now, so I am pretty sure they could come up with the dough.

So, unless you feel affirmative action is a poor way to help blacks – quite a sensible argument to make – or that, similarly, reparations money would be better spent on other initiatives (another sensible argument) you should not oppose either policy.

The foundations of these policies are sound, and the fact that whites insist that they are not only proves how illusory our progress has been. So, in the spirit of Black History Month, I would encourage everyone to ponder our country’s past and our future, too. I think opinions could start changing very quickly.