Friday, April 30, 2021

It's Time to Use the "R" Word.

After being a news junky for the better part of the pandemic, I am finding my news feed a bit disturbing these days. After all, the pandemic is reportedly waning, right? This post has been languishing in my draft folder for more than two years. It has been one of those topics that a writer knows has value but isn't sure about the timing.  Today, it was time for it to be finished.

What do you think the "R" word is? Did you expect to see some off-the-wall rant that spewed venom against one ethnic group over another?  Did you click on the link to support or defend against what this writer had to say?  If any of these things happened then the timing of this piece is right on target. 

Two and a half years ago, the country was reflecting on the deaths of Aretha Franklin and John McCain.  An off-year election was coming in November and the rhetoric was as emotionally charged as it ever was.  

For a brief few weeks, with news agencies and events honoring these two American icons, the definition of "respect" was front and center in the minds of more than a few Americans. That is the "R" word on which this post is written.  If you are looking for a explanation as to how RACISM relates to that topic, please keep reading.

Franklin sang of R-E-S-P-E-C-T during a time when many populations felt used. At the other end of the spectrum, McCain lived a life based on his own strong sense of respect for others and the office to which he had been elected and reelected.  Franklin rallied the underprivileged. McCain called out the powerful to be responsible for all who lived in this country. Both of these people stood for the same quality by being a voice of reason. To the contrary, today's citizenry seems to have little understanding of what respect is and how it is attained.

With the Internet more inclined toward marketing ideas and products for gain than being a source of accurate and reliable information, it is understandable that there is confusion about what Civil Rights legislation is really all about.

In those days, there was a great deal of concern about how such legislation would be interpreted. Critics read that hesitancy as a desire to keep certain ethnic groups from achieving equalility. Instead of looking forward fifty or a hundred years, those in favor of the law never considered it would bring about an even wider gap in equality. 

To help understand the difference between what Civil Rights legislation says and what it does, it helps to look at how alcohol use is legislated.  

The assumption is that people are fined for "drinking" alcohol or in the cause of civil rights for being a racist.  Neither is the case.  Citizens can be fined for having an open beer bottle in a moving car or having a blood alcohol level over a set limit. They can be charged for driving erratically or causing a disturbance that impacts others. They cannot be charged with drinking alcohol, just like citizens cannot be charged with being a racist. Using the term has no legal effect.

In 1968, lawmakers knew that there was no way to legislate RESPECT but there was every way to legislate RACISM -- Yes, I said that right.  There are multiple ways to bring about RACISM and inequality through the use of legislation.  More institutionalized than actual racism, the mindset of today's younger, educated and socially conscious lawmakers have been raised on legislated custom designed racism to the point they cannot even see how it is returning this country to an ugly and disturbing time. 

Civil rights legislation, in very simple terms, only says that discrimination is illegal. It does not mandate equality, fair treatment and most of all, respect. Even the Constitution does not guarantee equality for individuals, just a place that is just, tranquil, safe and free.  Lawmakers who profess that the legislation is capable of changing human nature are guilty of gas lighting voters.

In the same way that state and local governments quickly passed statutes following the Emancipation Proclamation, special interest groups across the country used similar tactics after the passage of civil rights laws. This time it was not to restrict rights but to enhance the rights of some over others.  If the law allowed special treatment, then it was not discrimination. Soon there would be a flood of legislation giving preferential treatment to all manner of conditions.  From restoring voting rights to criminals and accommodating select physical and mental differences to sensitivity training and all kinds of financial assistance, a whole generation of people cannot understand why equal under the law does not translate into respect and acceptance by those who do not qualify for aid.

By putting every cause, every need, and every injustice in the hands of government, our country was robbed of the chance to develop long lasting, respectful relationships that crossed economic and ethnic lines.  Every legal maneuver was one more reason to avoid those who got help.  Community kindness and concern now had rules and citizens could be held accountable in the court of public opinion if they were not generous or tolerant enough. The best alternative was separation.  LIke the mother who calls out every child for bullying their child, government has unwittingly cleared the playground of those who would otherwise have welcomed the interaction.

Racism is not systemic to the average America.  It is systemic in the colleges, universities, courts and governments that sanction and promote these policies which do not align with the basic tenets of the Constitution. Again, the Constitution does not guarantee opportunity or prosperity, only that government will provide a place in which it is possible.

The Federal government of the United States has a long history of taking what belongs to one group and giving it to another.  At the time of the Civil War, a largely illiterate population made it easy to hoodwink freed slaves and ravaged Southerners.  Now the Internet and social media make the process of controlling the message a touch away. Reconstruction was an "R" word that was touted as time that would be good for the country. In reality it was anything but good.  

Racism is the "R" word that is now being used to distract voters from looking a bit too close and asking a few too many questions.  Only when Respect is the "R" word that is used most often will there be a chance for the United States to finally be the country it should have been long before now.