Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A little more about Selma, 50 years on

In the Times, as he often does, Charles Blow explains why racial relations seem so white hot in Amerkkka these days.

According to the Census Bureau, “The U.S. is projected to become a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043,” with minorities projected to be 57 percent of the population in 2060.

In response, fear and restrictive laws are creeping back into our culture and our politics — not always explicitly or violently, but in ways whose effects are similarly racially arrayed. Structural inequities — economic, educational — are becoming more rigid, and systemic biases harder to eradicate. But this time the threat isn’t regional and racially binary but national and multifaceted.

So, we must fight our fights anew.

This does go to the heart of our times. I know. I live in California. (And I write this post periodically, because it is still true and still matters.)

You see, in California in the 1990s, the state was very close to its own racial tipping point, reached in 2000. No "racial" group forms a majority here. And guess what? We're fine!

We were not fine in the 1990s. I wasn't just blowing smoke when I was running around telling funders they had to pay for voting rights and citizen participation projects in the state -- that we were becoming the new Alabama. During that decade, the shrinking white majority repeatedly tried to hold off demographic change by popular vote.

In 1994, we voted that we hated (Mexican-origin) immigrants and wouldn't provide those people education for their kids, health care, or other social services. (Fortunately, federal courts mostly said "no" to these attempts by the state to preempt national law and policy.) In 1996, we voted to outlaw efforts to ensure that all groups got a fair chance at public higher education; wouldn't want white prospective students to have to compete with those people. That ban on the affirmative action is still in place and diversity in the University of California system has not yet recovered. In 1998, we voted to ban multi-year bilingual education. Wouldn't want to coddle those people. Let'em speak English, even if they are kids and just arrived.

But demographic change marched on. And though those people are still a minority of the registered electorate, those people voted for Democrats near unanimously. And enough whites also voted for Democrats, so the California Republican Party became vestigial, annually searching for some way to "reinvent" itself. And now the state mostly tries to undo the damage from those years and stumble toward a sustainable future which is going to take the best efforts of all of us.

California is no paradise of racial harmony. Our police departments still kill young people of color with little pretext; they just killed an inoffensive Guatemalan immigrant in my neighborhood last week.

But we're over the hump on demographic change. People struggling to get there in the rest of the country should look to California and feel hope. Change is hard; there have been and will be more casualties. But change very well may not take as long as it looks as if it might from where we are stuck today.
Just one more irresistible moment from Selma. Diane Nash, along with James Bevel, organized the 1965 march. She believed in vigorous nonviolent action for freedom and justice then and she still believes in it now. Last Saturday, she didn't march with the dignitaries -- the participation of George W. Bush detracted too much from what she still holds dear.

... I was not happy there was not a seating section ... for the 'foot soldiers,' the people who actually crossed the bridge 50 years ago ... I think the Selma movement was about nonviolence, and peace, and democracy and George Bush stands for just the opposite, for violence and war and stolen elections. And George Bush's administration had people tortured.

... I think today should have been a celebration of nonviolence. ... it is definitely one of the most significant social inventions of the 20th century. ...

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