As difficult as it is for me to admit, I’m getting old. Some say that our social culture repeats itself about every twenty years or so. If that’s the case I now have to realize that I’m experiencing déjà vu for the second time around. Such is the case when I look at our new form of civil disobedience. You see, I remember the sit-ins and the shut ins. I remember the marching and the social justice rebellion of the 60’s, the me generation rebellion of the 80’s and now the hi-tech low risk civil obedient disobedience of the new millennium. From the hippies to the yuppies, buppies and now techies, it has all been some sort of call for a shift in the social paradigm. Though today’s form of civil disobedience is a far cry from the Montgomery boycott, the march on Washington, Woodstock or hostile takeovers (yes hostile takeovers were a form of rebellion), there are still some vague similarities that exist.
Some of those similarities are best characterized by the “what’s in it for me” mentality. Or rather, “how do I protect their rights before they infringe on my rights” thinking. It was easy enough for us to come together as a people or race when the lines were so distinctly drawn, and the divide between blacks and whites was obvious and evident. It was easier for us to recognize the disparity between the rich and the poor when the lines weren’t so obscured with examples of ethnic accomplishment. It was just easier then. But if we are to look honestly at the social and economic divide that separates us today, statistically we would find that the divide is greater and deeper than it was during the 60’s or 80’s. And we would further find that the access to opportunity that we all fought so vigorously for has been more greatly restricted to a privileged few than ever before.
You see, there was once a time when you knew what the game was, who the players were and what the rules and objectives were. It was clear that there was virtually NO opportunity, so it made you become creative. The situation demanded that you call upon the assistance and support of each other and almost excel by default. Harlem, Watts, Compton and Cleveland (to name a few) were basically economically depressed cities (as a whole) however, there existed thriving communities and opportunities inside of the larger community that provided access to opportunity, wealth and accomplishment. Since we all knew the playing field wasn’t level it was seldom expected that some great Messiah was going to descend from the mount to deliver us into the land of opulence and wealth. The lines were clear.
However, today when one speaks of the playing field not being level or the disparity of wealth people have a tendency to look upon you with jaundiced eye. There seems to be this sentiment that if one isn’t making it, it clearly is a greater reflection of the person than the society. After all, everybody can make it in America. But that’s not what the facts say. The Dispatch recently ran a series on disparity and discrimination in the home lending and refinancing practices of several local builders and banks. Years of this discrimination have resulted in Columbus being a city with one of the lowest African-American home ownership ratios among any major urban community in the country. Accident or by design, ask yourself. Is the disproportionate number of African-American males jailed in contrast to their counterparts accidental or by design? Is the disparity in funding between African-American business owners and their counterparts accidental or by some strange design? Is the Justice department suit of the Columbus, Pittsburgh and other urban police a non-issue for issues of racial profiling? How about the Republican heavy US Civil Rights Commission’s report last week indicating that indeed there were serious flaws in the Florida election process and that officials (the governor and secretary of state) made significant errors in denying thousands of Black votes. Was Florida an accident or by design? As you know, I could go on.
However, today while we are so quick to turn our attentions to the shining examples of Black accomplishment we seem to turn our heads to the realities of a culture that still seems to abrogate a significant segment of our nation’s population. You see, I can’t understand how a bunch of white kids at OSU can trash and burn their community; and it not be called a riot while the erupted tension of police brutality in Cincinnati following the shooting of yet another unarmed Black man is considered a riot. Is it perhaps what people interpret as the motivation behind the event?
You see, today we believe in civil disobedience only if it’s not disobedient. Today we have become too intelligent or distracted to understand and embrace the bigger issues. We can understand that Schottenstein, MI Homes discriminates against us and still scour the paper for the next Schottenstein sale. Where’s the consciousness in that? We can understand that our school system, according to the PHI DELTA KAPPA report has continually discriminated against the Black and the poor, yet celebrate its inefficiencies. We can realize that Blacks and poor are treated differently by the police than others but still appear shocked when it happens to someone we know. We can reroute ourselves around the disturbance at OSU (when it’s white kids) but call for greater police presence during the Heritage Festival (a typically Black event). We can know and not know at the same time. We can see the injustices and not see them at the same time. We can fear for our safety against an oppressive system while at the same time accepting that condition as typical and practical for a given people. We can see the sub-cultures of drugs and counterfeiting emerging (often because the same minds that can mastermind these types of enterprises are passed over for more traditional employment) and at the same time never wonder what motivates this type of entrepreneurial venture.
We can see judge Graham’s decision and not fight it. We can realize that during an economic downturn we are most likely the first to feel it, get laid off or go bankrupt and yet, still not fight for equity, parity and equality. We can see our children graduating at skill levels far below what we graduated with and somehow be comfortable and relieved that they have jumped the first hurdle to success, while knowing at the same time that many of them are not prepared to move forward. We can watch the decay of and misappropriations of social service dollars (away from our communities) and yet not place any demands on the system when levy time rolls around. We have forgotten the lessons of our ancestors, grandparents and parents.
We have forgotten the labor and toil they endured to provide us with opportunities. We have relieved ourselves of the responsibility and ownership of our success. We have in many cases reduced our mission to what little (if anything) can I do? But then we hold out hope for some Messiah to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes and right all of the wrongs. And interestingly even when we sometimes see that Messiah we fail to adequately fund and support the revolution. You see, our new form of civil disobedience should be more greatly recognized as an apathy or lethargy to change the things that we know ought to be changed. It lacks the spirit and fire of the past. Confrontation has been replaced with conciliation and boycotts replaced with boardroom banter. In the end only incremental changes (if any) will be recognized.
Yes this new type of civil disobedience leaves me wanting…for the good old days.
Albert A. Warner