There were a few people — friends, professors, Yolanda the Supreme Mabee Guard — who asked me if I was going to march on MLK Jr. Day. I would tell them no, that I had homework and so forth, that I was going to do some writing instead, that I think I may visit my family but who knows? But I don’t have the time — sorry. These stammerings worked well until certain friends pressed me further, sensing a deeper objection.
On MLK Jr. Day, I walked past the long line of buses in front of Bell Center and saw the throng of wide-eyed, cheery students. I thought it strange revelry. Many pictures of the Selma marchers show clenched jaws and iron gazes, but some smiles too — yet those were the smiles of men and women marching themselves into, in some cases, dogs and fire hoses and visceral rage. Some of those smiles were smashed in with billy clubs. The violence that the marchers of the 1960s faced lurks deep in our cultural conscience.
Racism for those marchers was not a mere word. Racism was not a malleable term to be debated, nor a cheap insult to toss around lightly. It was tangible and painful and real. This word has since waxed into something fuller — perhaps too full and broad — and it leaves me wondering what my colleagues are marching against today. Racism, yes, but what does that word mean for them now? Less-than-sensitive rhetoric? Resistance to multiculturalism? Sorority girls wearing sombreros?
Surely many students have more realistic reasons for marching. There are indeed economic and social disparities that are impossible to ignore between blacks and whites in America today, but who is to blame? Who is the enemy against which we march? For most of my colleagues, it is a foe that they do not care to either face or acknowledge. We already have a perfect enemy: white, preferably evangelical, preferably Southern and most preferably conservative (i.e. me).
From my perspective, the real enemy is not dominant whiteness but the federal government, most notably the Democratic party. Racism is no longer a social problem, and in a sense it never was. Racism is an economic problem. Disparities are not evidence of dominance or racism. White Americans are not even the top earners in the country — in America, the top three ethnic groups in terms of household income are Indians, Filipinos and Taiwanese. Likewise, Iranian-, Nigerian-, and Ghanaian-Americans earn more than the average white American. Does this mean that the American economic system privileges Iranians over whites? Is there Filipino privilege?
Furthermore, the black community suffered statistical harm under Democratic entitlement policies. In 1960, around a century after the 13th amendment, just 22 percent of black children grew up in homes without both parents. By 1990, after the government implemented the War on Poverty and a host of other entitlement programs designed to help (read: target) the black community, that number had tripled. Only a fraction of black students are getting into private high schools today compared to the percentage of black students that were receiving private high school education decades ago. In general, the black community is worse off now than it was when the Selma marchers were marching, despite the undeniable fact that U.S. society has grown less and less racist. The discussion of how Democratic programs have wrought this force on the black community is worth a paper in and of itself, but it suffices to assume that my colleagues are marching against none of these things.
My colleagues march against an effigy. I am sure they acknowledge these problems, but instead of earnestly seeking practical solutions for them, progressives tend to use these economic problems as a backdrop to emphasize and inflate social problems that are diminishing quickly into nothingness. For their own self-assurance, they make a carnival out of a struggle and I see no principle in it. In their push for progress, they have refused to acknowledge that the foe they claim to fight against has progressed as well and is no longer the slaveowners and the KKK and the Nazis all rolled into one. As an outsider looking in, I see a place in which I am not welcome. I see a movement that claims to fight against racism but only on the easiest and falsest terms. I see a movement that lumps in things which I love, namely justice and peace, with political issues with which I cannot agree. I will strive to love my fellow men and women, but I will not delude myself into walking easy streets among friends to the sounds of praise and call it fighting for justice.