50 Years from Selma

Just over 50 years ago, a group of 600 civil rights activists were gassed and beaten during a march from Selma to Montgomery.

Where have we gone since then?

John Lewis, who co-chaired the march as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), is now a Congressman for Georgia’s 5th congressional district.

So, there’s that.

Lewis was actually my commencement speaker when I finished my Masters at Emerson college.

I’m pretty sure most people didn’t know who he was.

Some congressman or something?

Meanwhile in Oklahoma, members of theĀ Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity were videotaped jovially singing a shockingly racist song.

Every time I hear SAE officials fervently claim that they denounce such acts, I imagine the follow up to be, “We don’t support this behavior – students shouldn’t be videotaped expressing such things!”

After all, everyone knows you should keep your racist thoughts inside your own head. Letting them out, perhaps, only in the comfort of your own home while wearing a smoking jacket in your study.

Ever since they did away with Whites Only clubs, no public place is safe any more.

….We did do away with those clubs, didn’t we?

I sure hope so, but I wouldn’t be surprised to stumble upon one.

Not in name, of course, but in practice. An establishment with just the right price and just the right attitude to keep unfavorables away. If you know what I mean.

So that’s where we’ve come since Selma.

Someone told me this morning that in the last 40 years, college graduation rates for the lowest income bracket has gone up 2%. From 7% to 9%.

Over those same 40 years, graduation rates for the top income bracket has gone up 20%. From 20% to 40%.

So that’s where we’ve come since Selma.

I wasn’t around in 1965 so I can’t speak to what racism was like then.

I sure hope it’s gotten better.

But I do know it’s gotten more proper.

We – as white society generally – have learned that you can’t be videotaping singing about lynchings and dropping the n-word. That’s not acceptable at all.

In polite society, we just find reasons – simple, explainable, non-racist reasons why the white people are always on top and the black people are always behind.

I recently heard a white woman cut a black woman off mid-sentence. “I don’t mean to interrupt you,” she said…as she continued interrupting.

So that’s where we’ve come since Selma.

I suppose a conversation slight isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things. I’ve been slighted all time – alas, often by men. But I wondered what was happening in each woman’s head – was I the only one wondering how race was part of the dynamic?

Our country is built on black bodies. Black bodies established our economy, and black bodies ripen our prisons.

It’s not that our society is racist – heavens no, we did away with that in Selma – its just that we don’t have good schools to educate black students, we don’t have kind words to welcome black views, we don’t have the capacity to deal with this messy knot of poverty and violence.

It’s not that we’re racist, we just shoot unarmed black men in the street.

So, that’s where we’ve come since Selma.

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