Monday, March 9, 2015

Selma: Yesterday's Uncomfortable Truths Vs. Today's Uncomfortable Truths

"A lie cannot live."..Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1958, our family took a road trip to Florida. We lived in the Bronx. I was little lad at the time. Most of my friends were Hispanic and Black. Even at that young age,  I certainly knew about bigotry, racism and segregation. Much of that understanding was attributed to attending parochial Catholic school when history was actually taught and taught well. But nothing prepared me for what I personally witnessed in the South during that trip.

It didn't come to light for me until we reached Georgia. I recall seeing the separate water fountains and bathrooms for whites and blacks during the trip. For a guy growing up in NYC at the time, I thought we entered some weird part of America. We stopped at at one of those old gas stations (filling station as they were called then) to fuel up my uncle's sweet 1957, two-tone convertible Chevy. As soon as we pulled up, an attendant came to the car, greeted us and began fueling. He also washed the windows and checked the fluids. During the pit stop, we needed to get some food and something to drink. McDonald's were few and far between at that time. As I approached the rickety screen door of the station, an elderly black gentleman was also walking toward the door. Since I reached the door first, I held the screen door open for him. To this day, I can recall the look on his face. It was as if he were saying: "What the hell are you doing? You're not suppose to do that son." He bowed his head and went inside the station. It was at that precise moment when I understood what segregation was all about. That elderly black man taught me a lesson that has remained with me to this day.

That was a part of America before Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous "I Have A Dream" speech in 1963 and seven years before the three Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. Both exposed uncomfortable truths about America as well as its sins when it came to race relations.  And while it would be patently absurd to suggest racism is no longer a problem, it would be just as absurd to proclaim we have not made great strides in human dignity in the last five decades. The fact is America is a better nation today than it was yesterday. Today we even have a black president, a Black First Lady and some of the wealthiest Americans are black. In addition, there are also over 40 members of Congress who are black as well as over two dozen Hispanics and about 12 Asians. We're also living in a nation where minority participation in every aspect of our culture is well represented.

And the Selma march this weekend also exposed some uncomfortable truths. It was MLK himself who recognized the importance of empowerment versus dependence. Yet, it's the progressive component of our political system that has failed miserably in promoting MLK's legacy of self-determination and self-sufficiency. Just as disturbing, some of the black leadership today appears to remain in the hands of race-baiting thugs like Al Sharpton whose actions and behavior insult the memory of those thousands of Selma marchers and MLK. These are "leaders" who promote dependence rather than self-sufficiency---leaders who line their own pockets for financial gain and fame. Their behavior is a con of the worst kind---exploitation and personal enrichment. We've recently witnessed some of that same behavior in places like Ferguson. All these con artists continue to do is promote misery, anguish and dependence. And I haven't even touched on the failures of many of the public school systems as well as black-on-black crime and the unacceptable number of black children raised by one parent usually the mother (54% to over 70% in many areas of the country).

Just last week, several dozen Democrats boycotted Netanyahu's speech to Congress. Some of those were from the Congressional Black Caucus. The insult and absurdity of this childish action takes on more significance when one realizes Jews were some of the biggest supporters of black civil rights in the 1960's. As the Jewish Daily Forward pointed out even the film "Selma" distorted history by airbrushing out Jewish contributions to civil rights. Just as the NY Times did this past weekend by airbrushing out George W. Bush and Laura Bush from the march. I didn't.  Perhaps they've forgotten MLK's words about Israel: "The whole world must see that Israel exists and has a right to exist and is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world."

As I wrote last year, if Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, he would have many reasons to smile but also many reasons to cry and be disappointed with many in the Black community. After all it was MLK who also reminded us: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." I can assure you---I will never remain silent. This is not 1955. It's 2015. Again, this great nation has made great strides in human dignity.