70 Years of Fitful Racial Progress

In 1963 my grandmother was sobbing when I got home one cold November day in my first year of high school.  President Kennedy had been assassinated a few hours earlier.  She had just watched LBJ’s swearing-in on Air Force One.  I knew about it – who could speak of anything else, even in Spanish class, and anytime our president gets killed riding in a parade is real bad news.    Then Big said “I haven’t felt so bad about this country since our sheriff shot that nigger”.  “When?”  “Early 1950’s.  You were too little to know about it.  The man was drunk but unarmed, raising a ruckus in that colored bar just outside of town.  He was murdered by The Law.  But nothing happened, no trial, not even an arrest.  The coloreds don’t have many rights, but NOT getting killed for making a fuss in their bar is one right they deserve.”

In 1970 I was in the Army along with a few black guys.  Most were genuine people (Tony Soprano would consider them “stand-up guys”), men with whom I’d gladly share night watch, eyes wide open, listening for the clink of the pebbles we’d put in beer cans tied to the wire when the VC tried to infiltrate it.  They were training to kill the Viet Cong in ‘Nam.  I was training to protect against hurricanes and race riots here.  I shared a classroom in college with a black man from Ethiopia.  American black kids went to Grambling or Southern.  We went to LSU or La Tech.  The U. S. Army was an eye-opener for me.

Since then we’ve had a few black US senators, governors, and a president who did a good job.  As Joe Biden put it on Obama-Biden’s re-election campaign trail in 2012 “We should be re-elected because we’ve made real progress in four years.  Bin Laden is dead.  GM is alive and paying back its Great Recession loan”.  But many disagree, insisting both his terms were a disaster.  Did they live on this planet?  Please. 

In 1974 I bought a Randy Newman album called Good Old Boys.  Newman is a singer-songwriter who wrote possibly hundreds of songs mostly performed by bigger names.  The first track of GOB became a cult classic called “Rednecks”.  It is crude satire lamenting the state of race relations way back then.  Crude is too mild a word; wildly politically incorrect and hurtful is a better description.  (Statistically it is probable that we do have a few black readers.  I know of none, but it remains likely.  I’m trying to make a point here, not inflict more pain.)  To any reader who prefers to never hear the N-word again please just read the lyrics.  If you think you can take it, listen to the YouTube performance.  For total immersion read it, then listen.

https://genius.com/Randy-newman-rednecks-lyrics

50 years down the road things are slightly better, but it feels much more like change to White folks than to Blacks.  It has recently become harder for Blacks to vote, is still difficult to buy a house in a ‘good’ neighborhood, and don’t think for a minute that hiring discrimination isn’t more common than not.  The past year has seen three prominent trials leading to convictions of White cops and garden-variety racists for killing unarmed Black men.  That sounds like poor, sad progress until you remember that each crime was video-taped and introduced into evidence.  That’s glacially slow sociological progress, and perhaps mere technological progress.

What else?  There’s more but you get my point. 

If not, consider this.  Randy Newman still performs live on-stage when he feels up to it.  In a recent interview with Rolling Stone he admitted his great disappointment in how too many audiences respond to “Rednecks”.  “I wrote it as bitter satire, but in the past few years, more and more audiences holler out ‘Yeah!  We’re rednecks! Wooo!’ ”  Randy Newman has realized that he can no longer play his own song.  His audiences just can’t grasp that it was never intended to become their anthem. 

Yes, we have come a million miles.  And we still have a light-year to go.

4 thoughts on “70 Years of Fitful Racial Progress

  1. Yes, it is the fact that we are still light years away from the goal we seek which is so deplorable. It should be noted that once upon a time Southern States, the Home of the “Good Ole Boys’, were significantly populated by black people who had been given the right to vote. Alabama, Mississppi, Louisiana, Georgia & Florida, amongst others could have actually voted into power whole slates of black representatives if they were actually allowed to vote & their votes likely would have led to majority representation. But they were not allowed. This fact alone has increasingly led to generations of black people having little or no real understanding of their history.
    As George Orwell proclaimed, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” He also warned, “He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future.”
    We are slowly seeing the rise of all coloured peoples becoming the majority of the population & the remaining white, dominant powers doing everything it can to suppress those gains. Maybe if those southern states regain their population majority we may begin to see real progress in the fight to end racism.
    Thanks for the opportunity to dialogue, I apologize for perhaps hi-jacking your thread…….

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  2. Another thing to consider is the awful fact that slaves were not allowed to learn to read or write. If one thinks a good education is expensive, compare that to no education which when placed into a power vacuum, becomes extremely expensive. Former slaves would likely have made poor lawmakers and governors. But there they were: US citizens, recently enabled to vote and run for public office. And don’t you know those slave owners sensed some serious payback coming. So the southern white folks stopped it. Those in the north by then understood that illiterates make poor mayors and congressmen. And then Jim Crow went on half a century too long, along with minimal education for Black people which isn’t over quite yet. So here we are. Better late than never?

    I think so.

    I hope so.

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    1. I too, sincerely hope so but it is a measure of historical control that must be overcome & as we are witness, it takes an awful long time when the barriers to progress are so high.

      Unfortunately, the media is somewhat to blame in the sense that the deplorable treatment of people continues to get pushed off the front pages & the investigations into police brutality & murder of blacks gets repressed by the City & State Govt.

      The vicious cycle continues tho’ & it is demoralizing for a lotta’ people who are not strong enough to mentally endure. They give up, turn to crime or drugs or both & the cycle starts anew.

      Charles Blow, the NYTimes reporter has a novel idea – a sort of reversal of the mass exodus of blacks to the northern cities. He believes the best longterm solution is for blacks to return to the South & re-populate to majority status & then dominate political agendas to serve the people.

      I dunno’ if it will work in our lifetimes but I’ll be watching, hopeful………..

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