Submitted by Kenneth Fitzgerald
Writer Wesley Morris describes our decisive collective pivot toward racial justice as “the Moment.” The Moment is the nation’s long-delayed reckoning on race. It was set off by the videotaped murder of George Floyd – which followed the videotaped murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and other black men. As reflected in massive street protests, pro-Black Lives Matter demonstrations by professional athletes (sports are back!), and belated scuttling of racial stereotypes in consumer products (so long, Aunt Jemima), people of all creeds are now earnestly listening to the stories of African Americans about what life in America is really like for them. The stories range from subtle stereotyping in popular culture, casually racist jokes among kids in schools, to angry confrontations with “Karens” in public parks, to terrifying encounters with police pointing guns.
In finally coming to terms with why things are as they are, Americans are acknowledging with newfound candor the ugly reality of American history. Racism in America started with the original sin of slavery, progressed with the hypocritical declaration by the slave owner Thomas Jefferson that “all men are created equal,” and was codified in the Constitution, which decreed each slave’s worth as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of determining representation in Congress. Institutional racism evolved with the establishment of America’s first police forces, which were organized to catch escaped slaves. Jim Crow laws, the Tulsa race massacre, a thriving KKK, segregation, redlined housing, violent beatings of peaceful civil rights protesters like the late John Lewis, underfunded inner city schools, and day-to-day discrimination against people of color combined to create a persistent problem of economic oppression that belies the veneer of equal opportunity in America. Law enforcement has been chronically plagued by racial profiling, overcharging of minorities for drug offenses by prosecutors, disparate sentencing, and the resulting warehousing of African American men in prison. The United States remains a stubbornly striated society, rather than a true melting pot. African Americans are seen by too many as a dangerous underclass, to be feared and kept at bay. Just as there is a wide spectrum of people in America – from the liberally educated and well-intentioned to the brutish and malevolent, there is a spectrum of prejudicial behavior in America, from unconscious bias to blatant violence.
Now, finally, most people want to be woke, rather than looking back at America’s past through the gauzy lens of “America can do no wrong” nostalgia. America can do wrong, has done wrong, and is doing wrong by African Americans. That’s the truth in the Moment, and an unprecedented number of Americans are embracing it, recognizing that honesty and patriotism are not mutually exclusive.
My hope is that the truth of the Moment becomes a new moment of truth more generally. If democracy is to survive, and if we are to meet the great challenges facing us, we must commit to truth as a moral imperative. Honesty must be a prerequisite to any discussion over important issues, including race, and how our children are educated about race in schools.
Here in Coronado, a petition is circulating online to prevent the school district from implementing its plan to combat racism. The petition demands that the school district “reject solidarity with BLM, as BLM is a Marxist organization, not an educational institution.” The petition solicitation claims that BLM teaches its “own radical 13 Guiding Principles including ‘disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family.’” Echoing this assertion, a letter to the editor in last week’s Eagle-Journal stated that the BLM organization “lists the destruction of the nuclear family as one of its goals.”
Except it doesn’t. The BLM website being misquoted by the anti-BLM advocates in town actually says: “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.” BLM does not list destruction of the nuclear family as one of its goals. It merely advocates for community-based caring for non-nuclear families, regardless of whether they fit the traditional mold. Support for single parents shouldn’t be controversial. But by mischaracterizing BLM’s call to support them as a call for destruction of the nuclear family, local partisans are trying to sow division to disrupt the school district’s efforts to meet the moment. The offending call to action by Superintendent Karl Mueller? “Racism and hate must never be accepted; especially in our schools where children are entitled to feel safe, valued, and respected. We have important action to take, now, in order to make CUSD a more inclusive and just community.” This is Marxism? It sounds like equality to me.
The misleading statements behind this petition drive are symptomatic of the larger disease of dishonesty afflicting the body politic like the malignant tumor that it is. Donald Trump has led America in an age of lies, where falsehoods have become the common currency in the marketplace of ideas. On Monday of this week, when U.S. coronavirus deaths surpassed 150,000 (by far the highest death toll in the world), Trump proclaimed, “We have done as well as any nation.” His false statements about the dangers of mail-in voting are just more of the same. But he is using those statements as a justification for attempting to delay the election. This president is literally attempting to destroy democracy through the weaponry of lies.
Let’s do better here at home. We cannot afford to tolerate dishonesty or disingenuousness in matters of public importance. If America is to be exceptional, Americans must rediscover a reverence for truth. We must reject lies in whatever medium they are transmitted – whether in a presidential tweet, a social media post, or a local civic debate. May the great reckoning on race give way to a larger reckoning on truth.