After the events of the past week, including last night’s shootings in #Dallas, I fear that my choice of 2040 as the setting for Melting Point 2040 didn’t recognize how quickly our ongoing segregation could tear us apart. The prologue to that book is certainly true today. Below is a portion of that prologue, with a couple of particularly important points highlighted in bold:
“Racial, ethnic and religious tensions have troubled the United States since its Declaration of Independence, and even earlier since Europeans first anchored along America’s shoreline. All that’s needed to again boil these issues over the sides of America’s melting pot is the addition of a few more briquettes to the grill or the quick turn of a stovetop dial.
“America’s founding fathers wrote that “all men are created equal,” but even they failed to recognize that “all men” rightly includes all men and all women regardless of race or other characteristic. So it’s perhaps not surprising that America’s multi-cultural society continues to battle the implications of its diversity 264 years later as the year 2040 starts. America’s challenge is little different from the divides that have tested the world throughout its history.
“Pockets of hate and intolerance have dotted the U.S. landscape in its less than three centuries of existence, though the objects of the greatest vitriol have changed repeatedly. Anti-black laws and sentiment lasted longest and resulted in the greatest cumulative violence. Italians were victims of the largest mass lynching in U.S. history. But many others have faced or still face discrimination as well. Irish. Hispanic. Arab. Asian. American Indian. Jew. Catholic. Mormon. Muslim. Women. Gays.
“Conceptual truths embedded in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights helped shape the United States into a frequently positive global force. Failure to abide by these tenets has, at times, allowed others to surpass America as beacons of democracy, capitalism and freedom. Even on its best days, America must battle with demons of hate, fear and anger – confronting ignorance, narcissism and arrogance along the way.
“At home, tensions erupt into violence when multiple failures overtake the nation’s ability to solve problems. Failures to communicate, understand, tolerate and respect trigger these bursts of animosity.
“Passage of civil rights laws in the 1960s moved America toward a period of integration that increased opportunities and requirements to work together. Then, after decades of progress, Americans started moving to live with people who shared their personal politics, values, religion, race and language. In doing so, the cross-fertilization of ideas and knowledge needed to reach consensus and solve important issues has become increasingly difficult.”
Whether the tragedy is in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Minnesota, New York, Cleveland, Orlando or any of the dozens of other recent examples, the path forward starts with talking together, finding solutions and implementing them.
Only racism, bigotry or hatred could explain the call from presidential candidate Donald Trump for a temporary ban on Muslim travel into the United States or his months-old statements about Mexican immigrants. Right?
How can nearly 30 percent of the 40 percent of Americans who identify as Republican or Republican-leaning voters say they would vote for Trump today. Granted, his support from roughly 12 percent of the overall populace may not be enough to elect him President. Still, how could that many people find his exaggerated political statements anything other than repulsive?
It’s a question particularly perplexing, almost stunning, to liberal Democrats and libertarians, along with many traditional Republicans.
While I’m admittedly no fan of what I view as Trump’s Don Rickles campaign methodology, I’m convinced that the disparity in reactions to the Donald can be explained without labeling all of his supporters in terms so derogatory that no efforts to understand their motivations are necessary.
It could have been one of life’s passing pleasures, a serendipitous opportunity to spend an evening absorbing the insights of 96-year-old civil rights leader, educator and World War II veteran Timuel Black, Jr. on what it was like to create his own pathways through life.
As we talked, however, it seemed that there must be a purpose to our fortunate table placements beyond my simple fascination with his living history. There were lessons to be gleaned, insights that apply to any young adult but seemed particularly relevant to an intensely dedicated and gregarious African American man who has lived as part of our family between college breaks during the past 18 months.
Graciously, Mr. Black was willing to share during our extended conversation.
Timuel Black, Jr. has both endured and created dramatic events. The grandson of slaves, he survived the Normandy Invasion and Battle of the Bulge during World War II before making a lifelong commitment to human rights after seeing the horrors of the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp. An educator who received his master’s degree from the University of Chicago, he brought in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his first Chicago appearance, organized Chicago’s Freedom Trains to the March on Washington, helped elect Chicago’s first African American mayor and introduced around a young man named Barack Obama who became another important first.
His history is extraordinary: his insights are equally important.
“If Demetrius were sitting here instead of me, what would you tell him?” I asked from my seat next to Mr. Black at a fundraising dinner for the Kennedy Forum, a group founded by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy to improve mental health awareness and treatment.
“I’d tell him to prepare himself; academically, if academics are the right direction for him. But whatever he wants to accomplish, he needs to be prepared, really prepared. The door of opportunity doesn’t swing open very often. If you’re ready, you’ll find a way through, but you have to be prepared,” Mr. Black replied. “Barack Obama didn’t become President just because he wanted it. He was ready when the time came.
“And I’d also tell him to persevere,” Mr. Black added. “There’s always someone or some institution to stand in the way of your success. If you know what you want to achieve – and you know it’s right – keep working, keep pushing. Don’t give up. You may even achieve beyond your dreams. I didn’t grow up dreaming about a black President. But we persevered. Something greater than my dreams happened.”
Just a few months ago, political pundits treated tomorrow’s secession vote in Scotland as no more than a passing nuisance.
After 307 years together, Scotland and England are so intertwined that most firmly believed Scots would overwhelmingly vote to remain invested in the relationship. Several months ago, polls suggested they were right.
Now, less than 24 hours before voting begins, polls suggest it is just as likely that the Scottish people feel more than a bit aggrieved by perceived and real transgressions. Even if a “no” vote succeeds tomorrow, it comes only after the three major U.K. political parties promised in recent days to step up Scottish authority if voters reject the referendum.
Regardless of the vote’s outcome, there are real lessons to be learned for the United States and other nations, particularly those countries of the increasingly segregating sort. Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, news stories are routinely recognizing the re-segregation of America’s schools. A move toward more integrated living that started in the 1960s began reversing in the 1990s. We are segregating in where we live by race, ethnicity, economic class and, increasingly, language and political party.
At some point, this re-segregation will lead to divide. I believe the point is approaching far faster than most conceive today. Nationalist efforts frequently cloak themselves under the veil of progressive ideology, the idea that target voters are being treated as a separate and unequal underclass able to obtain their fair share of economic and political power only through independence. Do you see any precursors of this movement in today’s political climate?
Peaceful voting and separation is the best secession outcome, but is no means assured as attested Continue reading
“As a general rule, things don’t end well if your sentence starts, ‘Let me tell you something I know about the Negro’,” President Obama observed in skewering infamous Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy during Saturday night’s White House correspondents’ dinner. With Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling recently having been exposed for even more inane remarks on race than those of Bundy and President Obama’s approval ratings at an all-time low, it’s as good of a time as any to consider race in today’s society.
National research shows that racism is on the decline. It is by no means eliminated, but clearly racist views continue trending down. The percentage of whites stating they would oppose a close relative marrying a black person has declined from nearly 70% to about 25% just since 1990. Fewer than 10 percent of white Americans say they would not vote for a black President, according to data pulled from the General Social Survey conducted since the early 1970s by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. (Note: A small, but statistically significant difference in racial attitudes exists between white Republicans and white Democrats, according to data pulled from the Social Survey and worth reading at FiveThirtyEight.com.)
While some elements of multi-directional racial fear and hatred continue, ignorance remains one of two core racial problems. Affinity bias is its often-neglected and attention-deserving counterpart.
Ignorance can, of course, be eliminated over time by education, including the ability to live, work and interact with members of various races. Continue reading
The United States has lessons to learn to avoid being the 2040 Ukraine.
Strong parallels exist between the stories in my first two books and the situation playing out in Ukraine today, so much so that a reader teased me yesterday that I had provided Putin’s playbook. Several parallels are particularly concerning.
Russia seeks to expand its territory to include more ethnic Russians ✔
In my books, Mexico is part of a coalition working to annex Southwest U.S. territory heavily populated by Mexican Americans and Mexicans. (The book is not an anti-immigrant or anti-Mexican rant, so you’ll need to read to understand the full context.)
Speakers of minority Russian language considered “oppressed” ✔
Schools in the Southwest and other parts of the country are increasingly teaching in all-day Spanish, including at the community college level. Not expecting immigrants to learn English is increasingly being advocated as a civil rights issue, when it is instead a path to another layer of societal segregation on top of our existing segregation issues. Segregated societies are historically ripe for secession and annexation efforts.
Geographic concentration of Russian speakers provides clear starting point for invasion ✔
There are already several U.S. areas where speaking Spanish is critical to finding employment and fluency in English is not necessary. The scope of these territories is expanding.
Several internal political leaders in Crimea welcome invasion ✔
Too many political leaders focus on their own self-interest. For many in Crimea, the opportunities for political and economic gains may be greater under Russia than under Ukraine. It is certainly conceivable that we will have U.S. politicians who think they’ll have more power if the nation divides.
Weakened, indebted economy in Ukraine undermines border protection resolve and economic response options ✔
My distaste for our high and growing debt levels is driven, in part, by my belief that it substantially restricts our crisis response options. Ukraine’s response options are highly restricted by both Russia’s military superiority and Ukraine’s tenuous economic circumstances.
The Super Bowl failed to generate much conflict, but Coca Cola’s “It’s Beautiful” advertisement is stirring generous gulps of internet angst. At the heart of the controversy is this complex question: 1) Was Coca Cola celebrating diversity by having “America the Beautiful” sung in a multitude of languages or is the iconic brand instead suggesting that we should become a nation segregated by language?
Coca Cola could easily have sent a powerful message of unity by having all of the singers come together at the end of the commercial and sing the last few phrases together in English. Such a commercial would have sent a powerful message that America celebrates diversity, honors multilingual citizens and welcomes immigrants from all over the world to join in becoming part of a nation that shares important common bonds.
I suspect that most but not all of today’s trauma could have been avoided had the producers not worried about offending people who believe it’s good to create new communities segregated by race, religion and language. Suggesting that people who move to the United States should learn English over time is racist to some academic elites and particularly to self-interested politicians who see personal gain in dividing America along language lines. It’s possible that the ad’s producers worried that having everyone sing in English at the end would have been taken as a slap against those in the United States illegally, because legal immigrants are required to learn English as a condition of citizenship. Whatever the reason, Coca Cola missed an opportunity to create a point of unity. If their intent was to generate controversy, they have succeeded.
My first two novels — Melting Point 2040 and Secession 2041 — tell stories of what awaits if we allow ourselves to be re-segregated by race, religion, class or language. We should welcome voices in every language to America. But we should also want to welcome immigrants into a nation where we can speak together and develop a united direction, rather than further segregation.
As ultra-orthodox religious leaders increasingly insist that women be segregated from men during public events, universities have begun allowing women to be forced to one side of the room. Now the practice is nationally sanctioned, glorified as a better alternative than forcing women to the back of the room.
“Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system,” a national organization of administrators stated recently in condoning forced gender segregation at university-sanctioned events.
If it had been orthodox Christians in America making these segregation demands, you certainly would have heard by now. MSNBC might even provide 24-hour coverage of ensuing protests.
The demands, however, originate with Islamic scholars and clerics in the United Kingdom and other Western European nations. Universities UK, a national association of vice chancellors in the United Kingdom, issued the guidance above, stating that free speech rights and religious respect are more important than concerns about gender segregation.
Universities UK at least acknowledges the rights of students and faculty to publicly object to forced gender segregation or, more aptly, gender apartheid given the ultimate goal of some segregation promoters.
“Those opposed to segregation are entitled to engage in lawful protest against segregation, and could be encouraged to hold a separate debate of the issues, but their views do not require an institution to stifle a religious society’s segregated debate where the segregation accords with a genuinely-held religious belief,” the association states in its guidance document on “External speakers in higher education institutions.”
What happens when white or black nationalists, espousing theories supported by a church, demand that their on-campus events be racially segregated?
What happens when hard-core Islamists demand segregation not just by gender, but further demand that Muslims be separated from Jews, Christians and especially anyone who doesn’t follow an Abrahamic faith?
There is a conflict growing between some elements of Islam and western democracies. Western Europe is giving America a preview of the debates heading across the Atlantic.
Forced public segregation is never an acceptable answer. America is already challenged with voluntary re-segregation – by race, political party, language, religion and other factors. If we head down the path argued by Universities UK of saying that publicly forced segregation is acceptable as long as it derives from “genuinely-held religious belief,” where do we stop?
Muslims have the right to practice forced segregation inside their mosques, just as Catholics have the right to not allow female priests. No one, though, has the right to impose forced gender segregation at events supported by public resources, just as no one has the right to impose racial segregation at such events.
In trying so hard to appease all sides of an issue, Universities UK missed that some principles require unwavering support.
Syria’s collapse into ethnic and religious civil war carries with it lessons for the United States perhaps far more important than current missile-launch debates.
Two lessons are critical:
- Segregated societies can be divided easily, just as Syria is being torn between Sunnis, Alawites, Christians, Kurds and other religious sects in their different geographic strongholds.
- Politicians who exploit divisions, or fail to heal wounds of divisions, can quickly turn nations into bleeding grounds.
After substantial advances toward racial integration in recent generations, progress has halted in many parts of America and even moved toward re-segregation in many regions by race, ethnicity and, recently, language.
Syria reminds us that we need to answer different questions beyond those being debated today in order to create a more unified society. Following are six questions particularly worthy of introspection and debate: