By Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed
Black slaves once were counted in the Census as 3/5 human beings, a “compromise” that inflated slave states’ population, boosting their representation in Congress (and the Electoral College). In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes ascended to the Presidency after a disputed election largely because he agreed to withdraw military forces from Southern States (stationed there to ensure that the rights of newly freed Black citizens were protected). That “compromise” opened the gates for further repression of persons of color.
The above is part of American history, much as we may wish it were not. Notwithstanding the many positive accomplishments our nation has achieved, there is much for which we should be ashamed. If we truly wish to be “great” we will have to reckon with that racist history and eradicate it from our society. Otherwise, it will remain part of our present.
The perverted concept of white supremacy never really went away after the Civil War (inexplicably still called the “Lost Cause” by some): its devotees merely adjusted to their periodic social unacceptability, while continuing to “covertly” influence national politics by cloaking their appeals to discrimination in “code” phrases (“states’ rights, anyone”?). Today, in our country, far right extremists hear occupants of the highest offices in the land use plain English to spew their messages of hate. And some of our fellow citizens, now apparently on “standby” lap it up.
Every agonizingly positive step toward a more free and open society has met stubborn, persistent resistance. To be sure, compromise is a cornerstone of a democratic republic, but “compromises” that do not vanquish the forces of bigotry only postpone the ultimate confrontation. There are no shortcuts to a just society.
Public safety professionals, including those in homeland security and emergency management, get caught in the middle of this strife. Restoration of order is important, but by what means and at what cost in lives and our national values? What is the balance between peace and justice? Does order “trump” accountability?
Imperfect people poured the foundation for our country. That foundation must be maintained and strengthened by succeeding generations, lest it decay over time. Currently, that foundation is badly in need of renovation. Current generations have our own imperfections, biases, flaws that future generations will have to correct. We do not need to perpetuate the racial injustice we have inherited.
At least, our stewardship of this republic is not yet consigned to history. If, in our present we are to live up to the lofty aspirations set out for us long ago, we need to face our national reckoning with wisdom and a strong dose of humility. For some of us that means listening more intently than ever before. For others after centuries of oppression it means subsuming justifiable anger and impatience (which, admittedly is asking a lot) and trying once again not only to be heard but to be understood.
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