At approximately the same time that the Sherrod incident was in the news last week, a little-noticed milestone occurred: the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Kind of ironic. But maybe not, when you realize that the progress made over the decades regarding civil rights hasn’t been, nor will be, in a straight line upward.
Moreover, look at today’s context: The election of our first African-American President has spawned a not-unexpected backlash of fear, racism and hostility. That backlash is clearly an element in the Tea Party movement, and is stoked for political gain by frightened Republicans. Few Republicans will admit that; and few Democrats have the courage to expose it.
Given the larger, world-wide context of change, danger and uncertainty, it’s no surprise that President Obama has become the receptacle for fear and hostility. For example, the right-wing and its Republican allies are intent on portraying Obama as a commie-leaning, anti-American, dangerous alien — despite that evidence that he’s a pretty centrist, business-supporting, moderate via his actions and policies. I think the outrage and vitriol expressed about and towards him is fueled by a mounting sense of hopelessness and danger, with no discernible way out.
The fact is, we’re living with a continuing, frightening economic tailspin; unchanging unemployment levels; endless wars with no clear purpose or exist strategy; an obvious need to let the tax breaks for wealthy people expire (and opposition to such from the Republicans); fears among both parties about tackling the mounting dangers of climate change; and a host of other continuing uncertainties and dangers.
In this context, few political leaders offer solutions that can be supported or enacted, given that the Senate now seems to require a filibuster-proof majority for any legislation. Columnists like Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, Charles Blow and David Brooks of the New York Times are among the few public figures exposing the core dynamics underlying this odd mixture of free-fall and stalemate. Many feel as Maureen Dowd described recently in the Times, that “…we are in a monstrous maze without the ball of string to find our way out.”
Our times need “out-of-the-box,” courageous, outlier-type thinking and actions. Having begun this piece about recent racial issues, I’m reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., that fits: “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”