Before reading this column, I invite you to first read the submission at the bottom of the next page from Bubba Ragan.
I have a golden rule that helps me ponder issues of the day. I reverse engineer them. The term is usually associated with taking something apart to see how it works. But in my case, I like to see what makes an issue an issue. I want to know, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”
My process is simple. I start by asking “Why?” And even if I find the subject matter despicable, I can at least understand how it came to be.
Ragan wants to have a conversation about race -- and I think he should be commended for suggesting a two-way dialogue. He’s honest enough to lay his point of view on the table, but let’s reverse engineer some of them.
His statement: “America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million ...” I won’t quibble with his figures, but it’s estimated that between the years 1500 and 1900, more than 4 million Africans died in the Middle Passage and never made it to America or any of the other slave economies. Don’t take my word for it. Check out “The Creation of the British Atlantic World (John Hopkins University Press).”
In 1860, slaves made up 13 percent of the American population, some 4 million people according to census statistics. Obviously, some might disagree that America has been the best country on earth for black folks, particularly those who never made it here. And we can’t say with any certainty what would have happened to the lives of people plucked from their homeland if the institution of slavery had not existed.
Ragan then states: “No people anywhere have done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions of dollars have been spent since the 1960s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, earned income tax credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream.”
That’s news. I had no idea those programs were designed specifically for black people, considering 61 percent of government benefits for the needy goes to white and Hispanic families. Still, I can understand why Ragan believes the hype: because it’s easy if you don’t ask, “Why?”
Those who lived under the brutal terrorism of slavery might disagree with Ragan as well. Those who felt the brunt of Jim Crow might not understand that white America had their best interests at heart. Those who were shot down, bombed and burned -- in my lifetime -- would have a hard time coming to grips with the goodness of white America. Some good white Americans shut the doors on the black community by restricting the jobs they could take, houses they could buy and schools they could attend and now are blaming them for the poor outcomes.
It’s rather ironic that 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. I was just about to turn 13 years old when President Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law. A year earlier, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
What events made those two gigantic proposals possible? The movie “Selma” chronicles another 50-year anniversary, where good white America Storm Troopers attacked peaceful marchers; where on the way back to Selma from Montgomery, some of those good white Americans killed Viola Liuzzo and 12 days earlier beat James Reeb, a white minister, to death, or those who, in 1963, turned a Birmingham house of worship into a crime scene.
Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the majority of good white Americans wanted this country to live up to its creed that “all men are created equal.” I understand fully the opportunities this country has given the black community, but at what cost? I also understand why Ragan would be upset if “trillions of dollars” had been spent fighting poverty and other ills in the black community, if he didn’t know that black people have an equity interest here; that their free labor helped build this great country, but they have been denied access to a return on investment. Assuming Ragan is about my age, this is history he’s lived through and should remember.
The black community has many faults which Ragan rightfully presents -- from single parenting (it’s above 70 percent in Bibb County) -- to the number of blacks incarcerated. As far as his statistics on rape, those are not supported by Justice Department stats, but is a long-held interracial boogeyman.
Ragan is also right that it is within the black community’s power to make the necessary changes, but, he and others have to grasp how we arrived at this point. Until we reverse engineer and take apart what we’ve been making for 400 years, we will never understand our intertwined society. And as recent events have proven, that can be dangerous.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet@crichard1020.