Right Matters

black lives matter blackout image

What’s fair isn’t always right.
What’s right isn’t always fair.
Strive for what is right.

protests segregation and racial mixing 1960's

In 1958, only 6% of Americans felt interracial marriages were right.
In 2013, more than 88% felt that way.
Progress, right?

Civil rights march on Washington, D.C. Film negative by photographer Warren K. Leffler, 1963.

1967 marked two years of race riots in the United States.

1968 brought the death by assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It also brought us the Kerner report. Properly known as “The America of Racism“, we ignored it. No, we followed some of the recommendations and things actually improved for a bit. Then not so much. And they got worse again.

How worse? Our schools are more segregated than ever. So is our housing. And poverty? Poverty is significantly worse than it was in 1968. And we are burning our cities. Our businesses. Again.

1970 gave us Iowa schoolteacher Jane Elliott and her masterwork, A Class Divided. We have largely ignored it as well.

white flight and the protest against school busing in the 1970's

1970 was also the year busing began in Virginia. In Richmond. Where I lived. Later, on April 20, 1971, the Supreme Court officially declared racial segregation of schools unconstitutional. It upheld busing as a tool to desegregate the public schools. Busing failed for a lot of reasons. One of those was White Flight “Because Busing isn’t fair.”
It wasn’t.
But it was right.

My memories of Richmond, of 1970, are few and far between. The Kent State shootings. Our car tires slashed because we had military license plates. Apollo 13. The Mi Lai Massacre trial. Most of all I remember the fear. Fear of race wars.

I vaguely remember taking part in busing-related programs at the Children’s Museum. Or maybe it was the Maymont or the Museum of History and Culture. The parents were angry or anxious. Or both. We kids just wanted to play and learn and have fun. Skin color wasn’t a factor. We were all just kids.

That White Flight eventually took me to Alabama, to Huntsville. To Home. The child that grew up in Huntsville spent his life trying to do right. To make things better. Be inclusive. Raise his son free from prejudice, from bias.

When my work team adds a new member, everyone else is excited that the new hire knows Linux. I’m excited because they are a she and her ethnicity is something other than white. Diversity Rocks!

There is a problem. A seductively simple one. Even if I haven’t been part of the problem, I haven’t exactly been part of a solution, either. I’ve been an advocate. I am an ally. But honestly? I’ve lacked… courage.

Doing right is more than simply not doing wrong.

Fast forward to this month. June, 2020. A scant week after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. The phrase “I can’t breathe” has new meaning. The streets of America are filled in a sad flash back, a doubly painful reenactment of 1965 with rioters and national guard and looting and protests and… pain. Anguish. Anger. Death.

Fifty years after the Kerner report, after Jane Elliot’s bold experiment, Mitch Landrieu summed it up best in his NYT OpEd “The price we have paid for not confronting racism.”

The truth is, we do not have a deficit of ideas in this country. We have a deficit of courage.”

Mitch Landrieu

We can no longer just do what is fair. That’s the privilege talking. We have to do what is right. And that is so much harder. Or is it?

How hard was it for activist and rapper Killer Mike aka Michael Render to say what he said on local Atlanta and later on national TV? When everyone else was taking to the streets to find some unwitting scapegoat to villify, when they were looking for their pound of flesh, their eye for an eye with interest?

He spoke clearly. Passionately. Honestly. His mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, was amazing. But Michael? He was transcendent.

I’ve saved the link. I’ve included the start, and summed up the finish. Thank you Killer Mike. For saying what so many of us felt, and what even more of us needed to hear.

"I didn’t want to come, and I don’t want to be here. I’m the son of an Atlanta City Police Officer. My cousin is an Atlanta City Police Officer, and my other cousin, [he's an East Point] police officer. I got a lot of love and respect for police officers down to the original eight police officers in Atlanta that, even after becoming police, had to dress in a YMCA because white officers didn’t want to get dressed with n*****s.
And, here we are, 80 years later. I watched a white officer assassinate a black man, and I know that tore your heart out. I know it’s crippling, and I have nothing positive to say in this moment because I don’t want to be here. But, I’m responsible to be here because it wasn’t just Doctor King and people dressed nicely who marched and protested to progress this city and so many other cities. It was people like my grandmother, people like my aunts and uncles, who are members of the SCLC and NAACP. And, in particular, Reverend James Orange, Mrs. Alice Johnson and Reverend Love, who we just lost last year."

He went on to decry media fearmongering. He encouraged complying with the Census, registering and voting, civic involvement. Holding public officials, public servants accountable.

So, I’m duty bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy…”

He was Human. He was humble. He was extraordinary.
He was obviously, unashamedly hurting. For the victims. For their families. Their communities. His Atlanta. His at the moment bleeding at the seams and fiercely divided States of America. Our States of America.

I was privileged to hear Donzaleigh Abernathy speak on Martin Luther King Day. Killer Mike did her father and Dr. King proud. His words weren’t always fair. They were heartfelt. And most of all?

They were right.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I do know that I don’t want my grandchildren looking back in 50 years, saying “Well, this is the price we pay for not doing what was right after 2020.” So I will try to be fair.

But I’m going to do what is right.

Mark Twain quote on doing right

Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

Mark Twain

Read: An Essential Anti-Racist Reading List.
Watch: 12 Movies About Race From the Grey Challenge.