America has a great opportunity at this time for racial healing and racial reconciliation with Black Americans. Never before has America seen the vitriol in the Black community toward police officers and racism. The killing of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25 in the middle of the day by an officer with his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes while he was saying “I can’t breathe” 28 times sent a message to the world that America still has a race problem. This senseless murder was traumatic for Black Americans who viewed it on television.
Now is the time many say to address seriously the race problem in America. We see marches and protests in many cities in the U.S. with different races participating in them. We see slick television announcements from major companies proclaiming that Black Lives Matter. We see professional ballplayers asserting their independence by speaking about racism and its impact on their lives. We see that the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins and the Kansas City Chiefs are contemplating a name change to their team in deference to Native Americans. We also see streets in New York, Washington, D.C., and other major cities with Black Lives Matter painted on them. I have noticed recently that 11 of the 15 New York Times best-sellers list of nonfiction books are about racism and Blacks including two by Ibram X Kendi. Most astonishing is the rush by some politicians and good-willed citizens to take down confederate statues and monuments.
We have been down this road in the past. One would think that the murders of innocent Black citizens and the overthrow of duly elected government with Black elected officials in 1898 in Wilmington by angry White citizens would be a period of reckoning in race relations. One would think that the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921 where untold numbers of Black Americans were murdered and 35 blocks of Black businesses and homes were destroyed would have shocked the conscience of America. Furthermore, that time after the brutal murders of Emmett Till in 1955 in Mississippi and the murder of the three Black girls in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and the three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964 should have been watershed moments for serious discussion about racism in America.
The recent murders of nine Blacks at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 by a White Supremacist resulted only in the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Capital and lots of thoughts and prayers from some of our political leaders. Another watershed moment should have been that period after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
Some might argue that bringing up past tragedies committed against Black Americans does not help at this time — that this is a time for healing. Perhaps the past is present because the issues facing Black Americans today are the same and the tragedies and atrocities are continuing even after the murder of George Floyd.
Painting with a broad stroke is not my intent. We know that Blacks have made a lot of progress in this country in the face of tremendous adversity. There are many Black millionaires and a few Black billionaires. Blacks have made great gains in the business, sports and entertainment industries. We know that many good White citizens who have throughout America’s history fought for equality and fairness for Black Americans. Many of those brave citizens were murdered because of their efforts. Furthermore, the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to our Constitution giving Blacks the right after the Civil War to vote, to freedom and to citizenship were efforts to right the wrong of slavery by honorable citizens. The Civil Rights bills of the 1960s were also efforts by a good white citizen and President Lyndon Johnson to address racism and White Supremacy. All of these great efforts have proven to be illusory because of the backlash by White Supremacist and silence from good Americans who were indifferent.
The Kerner Commission established in 1967 made the following findings about the riots and state of Black American during the 1960s when it said that, “bad policing practice, a flawed justice system, unscrupulous consumer credit practices, high unemployment, voter suppression, poor and inadequate housing and other culturally embedded forms of racial discrimination converged to propel violent upheaval on the streets in Black neighborhoods.” It further stated that “White society is implicated in the Ghetto, White institutions created it, White institutions maintained it and White society condones it.” It further concluded that the U.S. was headed into two separate and unequal societies- one White and one Black. These findings fell on deaf ears and more silence from good citizens.
Let’s be clear about the predicament facing White America. How do you ask them to make changes to a society and a structure that has benefitted them for centuries? How do you ask them to share in America’s great wealth which was largely built with the Peculiar Institution that was bequeathed to them because of the color of their skin? How do you ask a White Supremacist to treat Blacks as equals when White Supremacy was taught to them from cradle to grave?
Today, I am hopeful that George Floyd’s untimely death just might be that time when America faces racism and bigotry with serious consideration. Robert F. Kennedy said that “each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others and strike out against injustice, he sends forth a ripple of hope, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
It is time for America to “bind up its wounds” of racism, bigotry and White Supremacy and make this country what it ought to be-a beacon of hope for all Americans.
Randolph Baskerville is a retired judge who resides in Henderson.