on July 12, 2010
These conversations bring back many memories, some painful, others of peace and a sense of accomplishment. Andy Young is a man from my region of the South and my generation, who like myself, survived the Civil Rights generation and lived to tell about it. He has not only survived it, but has thrived and has lived a long, full, productive and even exemplary life, a life of many fine accomplishments, but one also filled with uncertainty, almost impossible challenges, fear and yes some failures. That he kept landing on his feet and on the right side of history was no mean trick, and had a lot to do with the sage advice he learned throughout his life and has passed on here to his co-author and godson, in this retrospective.
Here, most of his philosophy of life and his philosophy of success has been distilled down to its bare essence, into bite sized nuggets of wisdom, truths and some times mere truisms and questionable lore, all easily transmissible to the next generation. To wit: Follow your ideals not the money and fame; discover and listen to your inner voice; take baby steps towards your aspirations; the world doesn't change, it grows; favor the wisdom of life over the knowledge of facts; risking failure is part of the deal; and the most important one of all, you must start from where you are. These nuggets of wisdom (and many more) are given to his godson in the spirit of equals: that is to say in a "take it or leave it fashion." But Kabir makes it clear that he greatly admires and greatly values his godfather's advice. He realizes that it affords him a serious jump-start into a productive and meaningful life. We all wish we had had such an uncle.
I too grew up in the Civil rights era, learned the discipline of non-violence and participated actively in the change of that era. I had only one serious problem with Uncle Andy's advice.
As was true of all of us during that era, his unfortunately was the narrative of a "victim, forever overcoming his victimhood and victimization." Victory for him (as it once was for me) thus lay not in eradicating the evil of racism, (which should have been our real goal) but in achieving the status of "non-segregation." Need it be said that there is a huge difference between a state of "non-segregation" and a state of "racial equality and justice?" Did we in the Civil Rights era make a colossal, calculated and strategic blunder in settling for the much inferior goal of "non-segregation" rather than going for "full equality and justice?" Today, this very important distinction has been blurred: "non-segregation" has been equated with, and confused with full equality and justice in the contemporary American narrative.
What I have discovered in my old age (I will be 69 in August) is that the latter goal cannot be achieved by the Christian strategy of "failing to identify," or giving the "return address" of, or even pointing the finger at the evildoer, the enemy. But not to do so, while it may be morally self-righteous, is also to be cowardly complicent in the enemy's crimes.
I am not a Christian scholar (or even any longer a Christian) but I believe that this is a fatal flaw in the Christian's "turn the other cheek" philosophy of dealing with human power and social conflict. No matter what the Bible says, it doesn't work. To use Uncle Andy's language: It is BS. The evildoer (always a coward) simply gets a free pass, and is given the pass no less than by his own victim. Religious people tend to overlook this by giving "this dance of pre-emptive defeat" a cute well-rehearsed name such as "by the grace of God," "the power of forgiveness," etc. But history tells us that these are just accepted ecumenical niceties, religious word games that have nothing to do with the hard-nosed reality of racism. In fact no one can challenge the fact that it was the American Church that got into the game of "non-segregation (not even to mention "equality and justice") very late indeed (in fact, arguably only after seeing the handwriting on the wall?).
While it is true that some of us managed to escape through the ever narrowing and severely rationed loophole reserved in the gate just for us, the truth is that even today with a mulatto president, Dr. King's promissory note still gets stamped with the label "insufficient funds." Surely Uncle Andy did not fail to notice that today's "inner city schools" are still at least as segregated, and are now much, much worse than the segregated high school he attended in 1950s New Orleans?
Somehow no one will convince me that the enemy did not know that education was the only route to racial equality. Why else would it take 25 years before the first implementation of the 1954 Supreme Court Decision, and another 25 years to completely invalidate it? Today the schools in NY are as segregated as are those in Mississippi. Did the racists ever obey that 1954 edict? The available evidence of today says that they did not, but worked tirelessly against this law of the land, and did so from sea-to-shinning-sea. Nor indeed has Uncle Andy missed the fact that welfare coupled with neo-racism has virtually destroyed the Black family? Even with a mulatto president, a recent Brandis U. study claims that we are much worse off than we were before the Civil Rights era, and although Uncle Andy and I are doing okay, we somehow lucked out, the rest of our tribe is in a daily struggle trying to survive the socially-imposed economic and social melt-down. But worse, they have now reduced the value of equality, by increasing the circle of those who fit the N-word category. Yes there is more racial equality at the bottom of America's misery. But I doubt if that is what we had in mind in the 1960s. That outcome too in my view is a legacy of the strategic blunders of the Civil Rights era.
I may be wrong, but I believe that the avowedly religious approach of "turning the other cheek" has at least one identifiable strategic flaw: it allows the evildoer to escape unscathed. Under such a circumstance, the kind of cruelty that racism represents becomes cost-free. The evildoer can then simply regroup, recruit and multiply, refine his technique, and then bring forth an even more virulent, subtler but hardier strain of racism. I believe that in all of the hoopla about having a black president that is what we see today. What we have today is nothing more than a subtler more refined form of the racism perfected by the post-Civil war racists, still escaping under the radar and still under the banner of being ever-more tolerance and fair.
Kabir, please ask Uncle Andy about this, and email me his answer.