I have a friend from Mississippi, a white friend, who says his life has been cursed by the race question. He objects to people blaming the South’s slavery for our ills. They give slavery no context, he claims. Slavery has existed since earliest recorded times; slavery exists today. Nobody talks about that. It’s easier to blame the South.
I picked up Friday’s San Francisco Chronicle and read this in Chip Johnson’s column (Johnson is a reporter of color). He writes about Oakland: black citizens comprise 28 percent of Oakland’s population, but 8,228 of the 9,491 robbery suspects were African American; 844 of 1,091 of the firearm assault suspects, 1,034 of 1,439 of the assaults using other weapons, 27 of the 32 homicide suspects, 41 of 79 suspects in unsolved murders, and 67 of the city’s 90 homicide victims.
“They’re just killing each other,” my mother used to say, reading in Sunday’s paper about Saturday night’s deaths. Fine, as long as they weren’t killing us.
My father would look at Johnson’s figures and say, of course: they’re an inferior race. I see the numbers and wonder what we whites would be like had we been captured, shipped to Africa, held in slavery for 200 years, freed, but held in legal bondage for another 100. Our young men shipped to prison for drug crimes, families locked into ghettos with bad housing, few jobs, rampant crime, terrible health care and a second-class education.
Johnson says it’s nearly impossible to hold a rational discussion about the problems that doesn’t end in finger-pointing, accusations, hurt feelings and anger. Instead, people of good will work piecemeal: youth centers, achievement programs, life-lines thrown to young toughs. The disenfranchised citizens, the people living with the problems, continue to suffer.
What would help: low-come housing mixed into every development in every neighborhood; making minimum wage an actual living wage; school districts funded equally, with free pre-K for all, and the lazy and incompetent teachers out. Sex education, contraception and early abortion readily available (Did you read that the best contraception is watching MTV’s 16 and Pregnant?). Legalize marijuana and ease the penalties for other drug crimes. If the country won’t do it, let’s have a State CCC: guaranteed jobs for youth—we can refurbish our parks and rebuild all those crumbling bridges.
If we do all that, it will still take years—perhaps as many as it took to create the problem.