Civility · Elections

Racism and Politics – Why We Are Not Making Progress

The Oscars were held last night, and Green Book won for best picture. This caused Spike Lee to be enraged and he has vehemently denounced the selection. I guess he felt his picture should have won. I don’t really watch the Oscars because it has become a platform for a bunch of big ego people to try and tell the rest of how we should be living. Spike Lee apparently called on everyone to get out and vote in 2020 and to defeat Donald Trump. I like that he asked people to vote and he is certainly entitled to his opinion on who to vote for but where does he get the chutzpah to believe he can tell the rest of us how to vote. We don’t even know who the Democrats will be running against Trump are, so his opinion is just to vote against Trump. I like to vote for something and not against something.

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Regarding the award, I will say that I have seen Green Book twice. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I have one of my granddaughters staying with us this semester (she attends BYU-Idaho and they go two of the three semesters and this is her off semester) and she asked me if I grew up during the Civil Rights movement. I told her that I did, and we talked about how there was discrimination in this country in both the south and the north. I lived in a Federal Housing project in Cannonsburg, PA when I was young, and the buildings were segregated by race. The first time I realized there was a difference between people was at a picnic I attended with my friend Curtis Johnson. Curtis was black and I was white. We went to a picnic at South Park which was a huge park in the Pittsburgh area. I suddenly realized I was the only white boy there and people were looking at me. This was the middle of 1950s and even then, there was a white swimming pool and a black pool at this public park. I could swim in the black pool, but Curtis could not swim in the white pool.

I took my granddaughter to see Green Book and after the movie, we got something to eat. This led to a lengthy conversation about the Civil Rights movement and discrimination. The movie has made her curious about this period in time and she had many questions. Those questions forced me to think back on my life and if I was guilty of any discriminatory acts. I am ashamed to say that I was guilty at times. I think anyone my age who grew up during those turbulent times would have a hard time saying they never did something that would be judged as racist.

During the summers I would come home to Pittsburgh and work in the steel mills. In the mill, you found men of every race and nationality. Working on the coke ovens at the U.S. Steel Clairton Works or on the open-hearth furnaces at J&L Steel on the south side of Pittsburgh made you realize that a couple of hours into the shift we were all one color and that was black. But there was subtle racism even then in the late 1960s. At work, there were Poles, Italian, Slavs, Germans, Blacks, and every other ethnicity. We all worked together and got along. But after work everyone went home to their neighborhoods and there, they all looked alike and made sure that nobody who did not look like them moved into that neighborhood.

It was my time in the Army that brought me full circle to realize that we are all one and, in that situation, it did not matter what the color of your skin was but just that you could do your job. When men bleed the color of their blood is exactly the same.

We have come a long way in this country with regard to race relations, but we have still not achieved a color-blind society. In politics, too many try to keep us divided. My problem with so many Democrats running for office is they try to divide us on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender. They fail to offer any solutions on these problems but say over and over that we cannot vote for Republicans because they are racist, sexist, homophobic and more. What they want to do is create this monolithic voting bloc and move them into the Democrat column. That means if you are black and vote for a Republican you are a traitor to your race. If you are a woman who votes Republican, you are a traitor to your gender. In other words, on political issues, you should not think for yourself and make a decision that you feel is best for you. You have to vote in that monolithic bloc.

Since 1990 the percentage of African American families living in poverty has actually increased. It was 19.3% in 1990 compared to 8.7% of all families and in 2014 that rate was 22.9% compared to 11.6% of all families. In 2017 that rate had fallen to 21.2% versus an overall rate of 12.3%. So exactly what did eight years of leadership under President Obama do for the African American population? It appears not much. Hispanic rates are about the same when compared to national averages.

My point on this is very simple. If you vote based on some division of the public in general, then you are allowing yourself to be led down the proverbial path. The truth is both parties have marginalized the African American vote. The Democrats take that vote for granted and since the percentage of African Americans that vote for Democrats is so high the Republicans ignore them. Neither party is doing that much for this segment of the American population and if that vote was split more evenly you would see both parties actually engaging African American populations and competing for their votes. The last election was a real barometer on this dynamic. Hillary Clinton just assumed that black voters would come out in the same numbers as they did for Barrack Obama. If you look at the numbers in heavily black precincts in the key swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida you will find that Clinton got significantly fewer votes. They just did not come out and vote for her because she did nothing to motivate them to vote.

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What we need is a nation and political system that is not divided into these voting blocs. We need to have people making decisions based on their own beliefs. We need to have more and more people seeing things as issues and not race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Then we will be making real progress.

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