A Billion Pretty Little Lies

As Juneteenth approaches, prominent news stories over the last several weeks have taken center stage such as reparations, the precipitous decline of African Americans in Austin, growth of Latinos in the Heartland, and the prevalence of community sanctioned discrimination. On the surface, they provoke lively discussion while feeding into age-old arguments rarely delving deeper.

In recent weeks, Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic, wrote a remarkable and thought-provoking essay in favor of reparations. Coates posited that America as a whole anxiously avoids the painful dialogue related to past wrongdoing, eagerly disavows responsibility for slavery and racism, and averts digging deeper into understanding the real problems.

David Frum, a Canadian-American journalist and conservative political commentator, wrote a rebuttal, followed by Coates’ reply to Frum’s rebuttal. After reading Frum’s rebuttal, The Impossibility of Reparation, I left feeling his practical and insightful arguments against a reparations settlement represented a convoluted metaphor for how our society deals with racism. From Frum’s perspective, reparations seemed untenable if it took the form of race-conscious wealth redistribution for past wrongs. He acknowledged support to extend equal opportunity for all people and recognize past wrongs as an reparations-lite alternative. Frum also stood in frigid opposition to making any advances in perspective. In sum, Coates resurrected the debate about reparation using Frum’s response as an example of how American society is ill-prepared to adequately respond to difficult questions about race.

Another news story gave attention to the Public Religion Research Institute survey indicating a significant number of Americans are totally delusion. Go figure!

Researchers asked Americans whether a small business owner should be allowed to discriminate refuse to provide products or services to individuals because they were either gay/lesbian, Black, Atheist, or Jewish. It’s newsworthy research because many of us falsely believe only a small fraction of Americans continue to hold on to these ideas. However, anywhere ranging from 10% to 16% believed discrimination against Blacks (10%), Jews (12%), Atheists (15%), and gays/lesbians (16%) should be permitted for small business owners.

Although a huge majority would not allow small business owners to refuse service, the real point is not whether it is a legal matter or not. It is about a fringe part of society continuing to respond negatively to tidal shifts in the American landscape. After all the change in demographics, why do some people hold out to keep their traditions? Why do people appear to be under-prepared to manage the sea of change? What would it take to help a community make the shift? Some of these questions are explained by how communities are prepared to respond to cultural shifts as evidenced in the story comparing two communities dealing with the changing face of the Heartland.

Finally, there was the story about people’s opposition to paying college student-athletes salaries beyond their scholarships. Aggregate data showed that most people (64%) did not support paying college student-athletes. However, clearly, a majority of Blacks (51%) and Hispanics (50%) backed college student-athlete salaries.

Each of these stories are bound by how many Americans have disparate ideas. People disconnect on fundamental issues and have difficulty navigating the murky waters related to cultural differences within our country. Although we share a litany of common experiences, there are a significant number of sharp contrasts that divide us.

Unfortunately, the cultural division is not simply a matter of having a values conflict. At a deeper level, it speaks to life experiences and circumstances that leaves us stunted. When we do not expect people to dig a little deeper to sort out the challenges we share as a country, we are not showing the level of responsibility needed to demonstrate that we have the courage to muster meaningful growth. We fail one another when we cannot or will not demonstrate bravery to ask difficult questions about the state of our communities. We are left to chase our own tails waiting for the next big thing to happen like an election, civil rights legislation, or other event on the grand stage of life.

Instead of having a barrage of topics shot out a cannon requiring most of us to scatter in various directions, I wonder what it would be like to delve deeper beyond the exterior that can misguide us with a billion pretty little lies.


Originally published at jelaniaustin.com on June 9, 2014.