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A Hard-Knock Life: Social apathy prevents Blacks from turning “lemons” into “lemonade”

“But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” – Dr. King I Have A Dream speech (1963)

“It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens …” – Kern Commission Report (1968)

Within the past five decades America has made promises that its ugly past was in the past. The vestiges of racism that had been guiding principles in the nation since its inception were being tossed aside, we were told. The Civil Rights Movement had awakened America’s conscience and put it on a road to redemption, we were told. Progress was being made continuously, we were told.

What Dr. King got right was that America had made promises that were unkept. What the Kerner Commission got wrong was that America would adopt strategies and make good on promises of American democracy to all citizens.

In the long game that is American history, we are sadly being exposed as a fraud once again. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union exploited the police and Ku Klux Klan violence in this country to make America’s system look like hypocrisy. The world stood by and said, yes, America is a fraud. When images of violent law enforcement officers brutalizing civilians was shown on televisions across the nation, young white liberals rushed to the South to help. Americans cringed at the images on television of the unbridled brutality used by police.

How the tables have turned. Few scream in outrage today as police beat, tase, tear gas, and shoot rubber bullets at peaceful protestors. Now the protestors are seen as the bad guys. The Boston Globe recently reported on a trend that I warned was coming. Support for the Black Lives Matter Movement is waning.

“According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, support for the movement fell from 67 percent in June to 55 percent in September. The decline was driven largely by white adults, whose support dropped from 60 percent earlier this summer to 45 percent this month. Support also decreased 11 percentage points among Hispanics — from 77 percent to 66 percent — and six points among Asians — from 75 percent to 69 percent. Black support for the movement, at 87 percent, has remained virtually unchanged.”

Many of those “woke” allies did not “get out of the bed” and are now once again sleeping peacefully while the Blacks they supported are looking around in dismay, but are not surprised that those folks have given up so easily. We knew it was coming.

The tactics that worked so well in the past do not work anymore. Marching in the streets since the George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake’s cases came to our attention has gotten us no where in terms of real reform of policing. It has led to a lot of rhetoric about reforms but very little concrete change.

As cities across the country exploded in rage once again – after the officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor walked away with no charges – it felt like we were back at the starting line again.

The “lemons” like Bull Connor, the Selma march, and Alabama State Troopers that allowed us to make “lemonade,” have been replaced in the psyche of many Americans. There seems to be only sour situations, and no way to leverage them into something positive.

After decades of watching “Copaganda” shows, the police now have a base of fans who believe “Blue Lives Matter” more than “Black Lives Matter.” Where Whites in the 1960s decried the violence of police, many of them now “Support the Badge.”

No one makes the argument that all cops are bad. Many think that efforts to defund police and requests for reforming policing sends that message. They are ill informed because they are not really listening. They only want to hear what makes them feel comfortable. The cops who have killed so many unarmed Blacks in the past several years have nearly always gotten off. It is rare when we can find exceptions to that rule. That is the space where the lemons grow. Blacks are tired of seeing viral videos and hearing about innocent people being killed with no one being held responsible.

In-your-face racism is all the rage again. People are driving cars into BLM protestors across the country but there is no national outrage as there was when several protestor were injured by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia leading to the death of Heather Heyer.

We have watched the rise of fascism unfolding in front of our eyes and done little to stem the tide, except tell people to register and vote as if that is the solution to the train wreck that the nation has become. America is at a point where it is bursting at the seams and we are holding our collective breathes – expecting that some miracle will save us.

The shots fired at Fort Sumter in 1861 were the precursors to the bloodiest battle in U.S. history. We are now in a place where shots are being fired and we simply look the other way. The South lost the Civil War physically but won the war psychologically. The states that had turned into traitors and spilt from the Union were allowed back in a timely fashion.

Within just three years time, seven of eleven former Confederate states – Alabama (July 13, 1868), Arkansas (June 22, 1868), Florida (June 25, 1868), Georgia (July 21, 1868), Louisiana (July 9, 1868), North Carolina (July 4, 1868), and South Carolina (July 9, 1868) – were all readmitted to the Union. Two months after readmission, Georgia kicked three Black senators and 25 Black representatives from the state legislature and was forced back out, only to be readmitted again on July 15, 1870. At the time, these States were being readmitted to the Union, in the North only eight states allowed Blacks to vote.

Along came a disputed election in 1876 where Republican Rutherford B. Hayes promised to pull all federal troops out of the South and was appointed President as a result of this Compromise of 1877.

As we stare down another possible disputed election, will we once again have a compromise like in 1877 where Black people are thrown under the bus to maintain peace in America for White people?

Will the poison of racism forever rear its ugly head in this country? Can we possible maintain a sense of optimism when so many signs point in the opposite direction? Will we be able to turn this new batch of lemons into lemonade? Only time will tell, but right now it does not like anything will be drinkable for some time to come.

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.” – Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

“It’s a hard-knock life for us. ‘Stead of treated, we get tricked. ‘Stead of kisses, we get kicked. It’s the hard-knock life.” – Annie the Musical, “It’s a Hard-Knock Life”

About The Author

Reggie Jackson

As an award-winning Senior Columnist for the Milwaukee Independent, Reggie Jackson covers a range of African American issues. He is also a Consultant with Nurturing Diversity Partners, and volunteers as Head Griot for America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) in Bronzeville.