Speaking in the wake of the Dallas horrors, President Obama correctly assured us that race relations are not as bad in this country today as they were during the Watts riots of the sixties.
But that was over fifty years ago and is only part of the story. Throughout the eighties and nineties and into the 21st century, those relations had improved to the extent that none other than the great actor Morgan Freeman could have this 2005 exchange with host Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes.
WALLACE: Black History Month, you find…
FREEMAN: You’re going to relegate my history to a month?
WALLACE: Come on.
FREEMAN: What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month? Come on, tell me.
WALLACE: I’m Jewish.
FREEMAN: OK. Which month is Jewish History Month?
WALLACE: There isn’t one.
FREEMAN: Why not? Do you want one?
WALLACE: No, no.
FREEMAN: I don’t either. I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.
WALLACE: How are we going to get rid of racism until…?
FREEMAN: Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You’re not going to say, “I know this white guy named Mike Wallace.” Hear what I’m saying?
Hear what you’re saying? Boy, do I ever. And that part about “Stop talking about it” — nothing makes more sense. Since racist acts were already against the law and had been diminishing, the best way to extinguish, or seriously curtail, the remaining racism was to stop talking about it, to stop making such a big deal about it, to call each other by our names and not our races and let the racial scab slowly heal and disappear.
Just a few years later, the scab appeared very much healed with the inauguration of America’s first African-American president, a man who would be elected twice. I didn’t vote for him for policy reasons, but his election brought tears to my eyes as a former civil rights worker. America’s long nightmare, as Dr. King might have put it, was over, at least as over as things could be in this imperfect world.
But it wasn’t — not by a long shot. It went the other way. Driven by what I call in my book “nostalgia for racism,” racial enmity was brought back as surely as Michael Corleone was pulled back in in Godfather III.
Power, of course. The Democratic Party relies on the perceived reality of racism for the identity politics on which it feeds. Racism is the lifeline of the Democrats. Votes lie there.
But beneath this is an even more potent nostalgia, a yearning on the part of many for the days of the civil rights movement, when things were simple, everything was black and white, good and evil, when we knew which side we should be on, what was the right thing.
No longer. Times have changed and grown more complex. Nothing was simple like Bull Connor with that cattle prod. Something had to be invented to return us to those halcyon days. And no one to do that better than Barack Obama — with the aid, of course, of his initial loyal cohort Eric Holder, whose Justice Department recognized no racism except that of whites toward people of color. There could be no other.
Real morality from the civil rights movement had to be reconstituted through moral narcissism, pretense made to trump reality. Hence, the president arranged the beer summit between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and a Cambridge cop who himself showed no evidence of racism, but still somehow needed a White House sit-down. This was followed by Obama’s assertion that if he, the privileged Hawaiian who attended a fancy prep school followed by Columbia and Harvard, had had a son, that son would be like hoodie-clad Trayvon Martin — as absurd an assertion as George W. Bush saying if he had a son, he would be like some teenage redneck biker killed in a bar brawl in Appalachia.
The scab was being scratched, but it didn’t end there. Soon we had Ferguson and the Michael Brown affair. A whole city exploded over the obviously false accusation of a cop killing a black man, but the Justice Department and the president couldn’t take it for what it was. Instead, they honored the false accusation and fanned the flames. The city of Baltimore became a killing field, not quite matching that other killing field that no one talked about, Chicago.
Soon enough we had people marching through the streets of New York demanding “Dead cops!” and we got them. In spades.
Yes, there were bad cops — and sadly there probably always will be (who wouldn’t want fewer?) — but nowhere near the number of cops shooting innocent black (or white) people as there were black people shooting each other. It wasn’t and isn’t even remotely close. Everyone knows that but few will admit it in public. It isn’t politically correct.
Not only had the scab been scratched. It had been scratched with a scouring pad. The result was the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
The rise of that movement is the Devil’s version of the civil rights movement. It is a hideous and sick tragedy whose greatest victims are surely black people themselves and whose opera bouffe comic version is represented by its “progressive” allies like that forgettable nitwit who ran for president, Martin O’Malley. You remember him — the guy who, terrified, quickly retracted his “naive” assertion that “All Lives Matter”?
I don’t know what Dr. King would have thought about all this. Who could? But I do know from the perspective of someone who, in 1966, was a young man living in a rooming house in Sumter, South Carolina, that was owned by Dr. King’s cousin and inhabited by some of the sweetest people I have ever met, that this is not what any of us planned on.
Roger L. Simon is a prize-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media. His book—I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already—is just published by Encounter. You can read an excerpt here. You can see a brief interview about the book with the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal here. You can hear an interview about the book with Mark Levin here. You can order the book here.