While most white Americans believe America is a great country founded on democratic principles, has a culture whereby citizens can move up in society, and where most people are free to go about their daily lives, the African American or black community has a different picture of the situation.
When a black person thinks about their heritage, in many cases it goes back four or five generations to relatives who were slaves. After the generation that escaped slavery the history of the average black family usually turned toward tenant farming or some kind of menial labor. If lucky, in their families history is the first doctor, lawyer, small businessman or preacher.
In almost all cases, from the Civil War until the 60s,the average black family was discriminated against on a daily basis. Although that period was much better then the years of slavery, times were still very tough. Where you lived, where you went to school, who employed you, where you shopped, and in general how you were treated in society was very much controlled by the larger and sometimes racist white community. That is a legacy difficult to get past.
With the advent of the 60’s many things began to improve. Anti discrimination laws at the federal and sometimes at the state level were put in place. The voting rights act was past. The designation of your race as “Negro”, or ”Colored” “person was changed to “Black ”and now to African American in many quarters. The 60’s were a time of great cultural change for Black Americans. But as Yogi Berra once said “it ain’t over till it’s over” and in America, black society is far from full integrated into the larger society.
Although I do not think we have generally gone backward in the past 40 years we have certainly made very little progress.
However, there are times in American history when things change more quickly then at other times. I believe we are now in one of those ”change” times. Ferguson Missouri was one bookend for that change, the other was Charleston.
In the case of Ferguson it is still a question in some people’s minds as to whether the officer should have shot Mitchel Brown or not. At this point that is somewhat irrelevant because guilty or not the event started a backlash on police activities in dealing with black citizens across America. There are strong emotions on both sides of the issue, all I do know is it is creating societal change.
In terms of Charleston it showed us not only tremendous evil but also tremendous grace. To change requires grace.
So, how do we move forward?
Here is a list of 9 things that, if we worked at it, would dramatically improve the situation. They are not in any particular order –they are all important. Also, my suggestions are a mix of liberal and conservative approaches.
1. In terms of law enforcement-hire the right people with the right personalities and then train, train and train.
2. Revamp the criminal justice system and its processes and change the bonding system which keeps minor offenders in jail or forces them to plead out creating longer criminal records then middle and upper income folks get. We incarcerate way to many black folk for all the wrong reasons.
3. Drugs, Drugs, Drugs. Change the way we manage the entire process of dealing with illegal drugs, what we are doing is not working at all. We should view illegal drug use as more of a medical problem then a criminal one.
4. Work in a greater collaborative way with black churches, social service agencies and community leaders to help black families stay together. A key component of the problem is young black men growing up without good role models.
5. Raise the minimum wage. A large proportion of poor folk are black, a raise in the minimum wage would help correct that.
6. Create programs to train and enlist the portion of the black community that have made it in society to give back and help bootstrap up those less fortunate. Again role models are critical here and successful black leaders are critical to implementing solutions.
7. Strengthen our gun laws; black on black shootings are a major problem in the deaths of black youth.
8. Make education a greater priority in the black community, nothing provides a quicker leg up then a good education.
9. Take a long and unbiased look at the past programs and determine what worked and what did not work. In my view the war on poverty of the 60s had some good elements to it but the cost benefit ratio was not all that good .It relied too much on a federal top down approach and not enough on local and personal efforts. A balanced approach of federal, state, and local government along with business and personal initiatives is critical to a successful societal change.
Most of all to change and improve the situation will require a long and sustained effort, but worth it in the end.