The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

If I were President--the Covenant

And here’s one that would be my downfall.  As President, I would find a way to support the Covenant With Black America.  I don’t know exactly how, because I’ve seen (or believe I’ve seen) that any time you have a race-based initiative to address historical grievances, it is criticizes and dismantled by disgruntled whites.  I am sure that many of them are good and sincere people, but it also stands to reason that  bigots would embrace such tactics happily.

And do I think there are serious historical grievances?  You bet, and fairly unique ones, too.  You all know that I embrace “Guns, Germs, and Steel” as an explanation for the differential social development between say, Africa and Europe.  Given that difference, when Europe plundered Africa there was little they could do to resist.  ABSOLUTELY, some African rulers collaborated with the theft of their own people.  And some white people sell their children to molesters—that doesn’t reduce the crime of molestation, of diminish the tragedy to the tykes.  You can always play the divide-and-conquer game, and the society with the guns has mighty leverage to do so.

Perhaps 10-15 million Africans came to the Americas between the 16th and the 19th Centuries.  Depending on who you listen to, this represents somewhere between 1/2 and 1/5 of the total number displaced or killed in the process of slaving.  Quite possibly, a holocaust without parallel in human history. Europe then divided up Africa with little concern for tribal boundaries. Remember this the next time you watch massacres in sub-saharan Africa.  

I’ve got a problem with the “humanitarian” explanation for Iraq.  That problem is that the people I know who plead desperately for anti-genocide action in Africa tend to be Liberals.  Those who, in my PERSONAL experience, imply or say outright that we shouldn’t interfere, that it’s none of our business, that there’s something “wrong” with those people…tend to be Conservatives.  The same Conservatives who want me to believe that their interest in Iraq is humanitarian.

As I’ve said before, I noticed this during the Vietnam war.  The people in favor of the war tended to be disapproving of the Civil Rights movement right here in America.  Those who were in favor of the Civil Rights movement in America tended to be against the Vietnam war. 

So…while I believe that there are good-hearted Conservatives who honestly belief in the humanitarian motive, I think they’re being used by those who really don’t care, have other motives, and know that they can mobilize their base by crying crocodile tears.

I digress.  Africa was raped and battered by Europeans, whose descendants piously point the finger and blame her for limping.  I say that the West has a moral responsibility to undo the damage, and as President, I would promote this simple truth.
And what of the descendants of Slaves in America?  Simply put, there are two basic positions one can take.  The first is that blacks are different and lesser—there are simply too many statistical indicators of differential performance.

The other is that the descendants of slaves, and the descendants of immigrants (Whites, Asians, Blacks) have traversed very, very different territory.    I have heard white historians claim that it took 60-80 years (until World War II) for the South to recover from the Civil War, an event that transpired over five years.

To my knowledge, it ALWAYS takes longer to heal than it took for the injury to occur.  Forest fire?  Earthquake?  Skiing accident?  Rape?  Childhood abuse?  PLEASE, tell me what injury takes less time to heal than it took to occur in the first place. 

To look at the 300 years of horrific rape, torture, under-compensated labor, murder and brainwashing and not expect drastic problems in the descendants of such treatment, is selective amnesia of the very, very worst and most destructive kind.

But what can be done?  Remember that prejudice is hard-wired.  The descendants of those who did the damage are not, as a group, going to feel terribly comfortable addressing those problems.  Please take a look at the number of movies about the civil war, and compare them to the number of movies that deal with slavery, the single most intractable issue in that conflict.  Probably 100:1 ratio.  Black educators fought like cats and dogs to get black history placed into our schools, while whites argued that it wasn’t necessary, every step of the way.

You know what?  When I study literature or science with a female teacher, she mentions women writers and scientists more often than my male teachers.  It’s just a fact of human psychology that members of group X will try to ascribe all good to their group.  In the entire twelve year history of my public school education, not one single hour was devoted to black history. 

So here, I cannot trust to good intentions, or a sense of fair play, or anything else.  Here, I would have to ram a bill down the country’s throat, betting all my political capital on it, knowing that I  would never get a second term, and that in time all the good I had done would be undone.  Homeostasis.

But I would find a way to support the Covenant.  Is that a form of “Reparations”?  Perhaps.  But I’ve never heard of a reparations scheme that sounded to me as if it would work.

Lord God, if I could push a button and reverse the relative positions of black and white, I’d do it in a moment, and laugh grimly at the howls.  But that option isn’t open.   Supporting the Covenant will have to do.

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