Op-ed by Carleton Cronin, West Hollywood, California
My wife chooses the Netflix movies to watch principally because I’m not really cognizant of the current crop of films. So, yesterday in the mail was the movie Twelve Years A Slave, a film based on a book which had been published in the 1850s, a true story of a man from Saratoga, New York, being kidnapped and sold into slavery,
A harrowing tale rather ponderously told in the film.
It did not spare the facts, however.
The movie arrived in the midst of public turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police shooting of an unarmed black youth, an 18-year old resident of that town.
The town of about 21,000 people is 2/3 black and that population has only a minor representation in the city administration and the public safety department. Pretty typical now for many towns where blacks have moved in as the whites have moved out.
Add to that another police shooting in Los Angeles of an unarmed black man of limited mental capacity. These two incidents but a pair in a long series of similar occurrences. What’s up?
In my thoughts, I go back to a time when I felt that should I had been born black in this country I’d live in the wilderness and try to avoid contact with anybody. That was a view formed when I was a teenager and learned of the tremendous difficulty in school, job, courts and police relations experienced by blacks.
Something deep within me was revolted by what I had learned. Why should an Irish kid from South Boston be concerned with a situation he could not alter? It may have been because he really thought that the country should do better and grow up.
It may well be too firmly established in the human character that we tend to try to keep those a few rungs below us on the ladder to the top of the pile.
“Every group has been discriminated against” I’ve heard a thousand times, “so what? It’s our turn to win something.” That approach leaves no room for discourse or compromise, which is probably why the cops in Ferguson view their citizens as units of the population rather than actual human beings.
I’ve said before that police rely too heavily on their guns while neglecting other means of restraint. But, there is a price for the cops as well since it’s so easy to kill, but impossible to forget.
My formative years were spent in larger metropolitan areas where the racial mix was taken for granted – at least by some. I had black pals early on and learned something about black families from them.
My grandmother, in sunnier days, had black playmates (this in the 1880s), the children of paid workers at her parent’s home. She maintained a lifelong association with one girl until they both died at age 102.
I feel quite fortunate to have had an open mind, pretty much all of my life, with regard to the differences between one human and another. There are actually very few differences. My middle son was offered a full scholarship to a Mid-western college and accepted its invitation to fly out and visit. He wrote to the school president declining the scholarship because “the school was too white.”
He understood that diversity is necessary. My grandmother’s legacy, well taken.
I tell these things not to pretend to be a “better” person than others, but to show that familiarity does not always breed contempt, it brings understanding.
Hopefully, in this city which has been a haven for people who have been misunderstood and mistreated, my remarks will have some cache.
Here, according to Pew Research, are some stated views by the black community of our society:
Percentage saying blacks in their community are treated less fairly than whites –
In dealing with police –
whites – 37 – blacks 70
In the courts –
– white 27 – blacks 68
On the job at work –
-whites 16 – blacks 54
In stores or restaurants –
-whites 16 – blacks 44
In local public schools –
-whites 15 – blacks 51
In getting healthcare –
-whites 14 – blacks 47
When voting in elections –
-whites 14 – blacks 47
This is the year 2014, just about 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery and promoting black into the mainstream of American life.
We are still shooting black men and disregarding blacks as a hole as though Lincoln’s great action never happened. Our failure as a democracy in this regard must be evident to all who look to us for guidance from the greatest, most successful democracy in the world.
We can do better – and we should do it quickly.