The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Covenant Part One

I’ve started talking about the book and movement “The Covenant With Black America,” a book and idea promoted by, among others, Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West.  I’m in the odd position of having felt apolitical most of my life, and then marrying into a very very political family.  I can’t help but wonder if there’s a little electoral osmosis going on.  Hmmm.

At any rate, I thought I’d discuss a bit of this book, and its contents, over the next days.  I agree with all of its basic tenants (some more strongly than others), and some of the means discussed to implement them.  I think that this would be the point on which readers would disagree.  Some will shade further toward the “personal responsibility” corner, while others will say that personal responsibility be damned, such change requires governmental intervention.  Others will shade toward “Federal action” while others would say that tax dollars should not be invested in such social programs, or that X or Y is not the purpose of the Federal government, or whatever.

I encourage polite discussion on such issues, and will focus my own thoughts on my own personal reactions to the Covenants.  

First, my own statement.  Racism is not caused by something unique about white people.  It is caused primarily by a built-in, genetically programmed xenophobic amygdalic hierarchical fear/anger/superiority response that makes the average member of group “A” dislike members of group “b” by 5-10%.  This obviously slides on a bell curve, and can be overcome (for about 90% of people) by positive interactions with individuals.  But we’re not talking about individuals—we’re talking about groups.  Protestants and Catholics, Democrats and Republicans, Steeler fans and Cowboy fans, Whites and Blacks—anywhere you can draw such a distinction (and you’d better believe we’re doing it all the time) there is a flinch response.  The ONLY danger is in denying that we have it.  Through education and awareness individuals can overcome it—as long as they are not blissfully (and dangerously) in denial of its existence, which most people fight for the right to remain. Because of this unconscious tendency, and also the fact that 5-10% of the population (of any group) are going to be EXTREMELY angry/bigoted, there must be legislation to stop the more powerful group from completely dominating or even exterminating the lesser.  This is just natural human stuff.  The only real argument can be on the nature and scope of such legislation, and that question is what people of good will on both sides have been arguing for all recorded history.

Just never forget that about 5-10% of people are NOT of good will.  They are smiling tigers.  Never, ever forget it.

The overall purpose of the Covenants.  As expressed by Marian Wright Edelman, the legacy of racism has been devastating to the black community—both racism without and crippling dysfunction within.  Both must be addressed.

Covenant #1: Securing the right to Healthcare and Well-Being.  The basic point is that due to historical social disparities, healthcare to black Americans is unequal is quality and access.  Black infants are nearly two and a half times more likely to die before their first birthday as white infants.  This gap must be closed. 

Suggestions (quite responsibly) range from those of personal responsibility, to community action, to national political organization.
PERSONAL ACTION:  Taking responsibility for improving diets, getting healthy exercise, immunizing children, getting regular exams, communicating with neighbors to create an awareness of the problem.
COMMUNITY/POLITICAL ACTION: Increase the percentage of minority medical professionals serving the community. Improve data collection and research.  Create universal access to quality healthcare and treatment. Increase levels of physical activity and access to healthy foods. (This requires community investment in grocery stores, and efforts to bring such businesses into the inner cities.)  Promote environmental justice (toxic waste dumps are disproportionately located in minority areas), Broader training for healthcare professionals.
In theory I agree with everything.  In terms of universal health care, my thought is that every citizen should have the level of healthcare we offer prisoners in state or federal lockup.  Why? Well, I’ve got a great, selfish reason for those who are unswayed by the humanitarian ones: all I have to do to get such medical treatment is to hit YOU in the head with a crowbar.  Problem solved.  You know what?  I don’t  want to tell a desperate, sick person that that would be the power move. But that’s just me…and I understand the discomfort many feel with the idea of National health care. 

So…that is the first step of the Covenant.  If we can agree upon the basic need, we can argue peacefully about the means of bringing it about…or why some readers may feel it is not necessary.  But it’s on the table now…and repeatedly the book restates a position:
“Hold all leaders and elected officials responsible and demand that they change current policy.”

So make no mistake. This is about creating a voting block.  Once that voting block is created, what should they ask for in reference to this Covenant?  Suggestions from both sides of the aisle are welcome.
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