But Whitey’s on the Moon

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”Edmund Burke

“To protest against injustice is the foundation of all our American democracy.” “You do what you think is right and let the law catch up.”Thurgood Marshall

 “Civil wrongs don’t make for civil rights,”Adlai Stevenson

A simple five-word refrain set against the percussive beat of a single drum dramatically captured the despair, anger, and the chasm of disparity felt by black Americans in the 1960s in Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon.” During the latter years of that turbulent decade, I made the jump from childhood to adolescence. And throughout that initial attempt at coming of age, the screen of my family’s cherished 25-inch Zenith console was ablaze with images of F-4 Phantoms dropping napalm on Vietnam villages, Saturn V rockets breaking the bonds of Earth’s gravity–and the conflagrations that illuminated the nighttime skylines of our nation’s inner cities.

By the end of that sweltering solstice of 67 or the so-called Summer of Love, nearly 160 race riots occurred across the United States. And by the time Neil Armstrong took that historic stroll across the lunar surface in July of 69, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. during the previous year all but guaranteed that even the slightest semblance of peace, justice, and equality for African Americans seemed further away than the Sea of Tranquility. Now, as we witness the murder of George Floyd, our ongoing military conflicts in the Middle East, the rocketry of Elon Musk, and the violent clashes in our nation’s cities, we might be fooled into thinking that not much has changed since 1969. But my sense of history and my spirit of optimism say otherwise.

While segregation was officially outlawed in our public schools in 1954 by way of the Supreme Court decision in Brown V. Board of Education, it was not until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that federal law superseded all state and local laws to include desegregation in all public facilities. But lending practices maintained under redlining created an almost de facto segregation in poorer minority neighborhoods until such practices were outlawed in the 1970s. Also, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Klu Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups were operating with almost total impunity throughout the South. People were being murdered and lynched. Churches and schools were being torched. And when that rare prosecution of those crimes did occur, white juries were eager to acquit. And finally, overly aggressive tactics and disregard of civil rights toward minority populations by law enforcement were on full display in all fifty states. Much in fact has changed since the 60s–but what hasn’t changed is the nature of a riot.

The vast majority of people that partake in the chaos and violence in most instances were not previously engaged in some peaceful protest or worthwhile cause for the betterment of humanity. Rioters, while made up of several divergent groups that might include your average bully, anarchist, arsonist, sociopath, and low-level criminal, have one thing in common–they are all opportunists. And these individuals would take to the streets whether the backdrop for their behavior was a matter of civil rights or a bad call at a soccer match!

While I personally tend toward a voice of singular dissent, I fully understand the need for protest in mass. Politicians change according to the speed and direction of the wind–and nothing changes that speed and direction better than a few million people literally and figuratively marching on Washington! But as it has in the past, many valid causes and well-grounded expressions of outrage have been delegitimized by our governing bodies whenever the exercise of free speech in the light of day is overshadowed by that free-for-all in the dark of night.

This pandemic and the resulting economic hardships that we now face amid this profound test of our country’s core values will not distinguish between race, color, creed, or political affiliation. But perhaps that shared suffering might bring about some shared solutions.

The time for small steps is over. This moment in our nation’s history demands another giant leap–and this time that leap must include all Americans!

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We attempt to further tackle this very difficult topic of race in America at our podcast @ sitdownsandsessions.podbean.com/

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

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