What would have happened if Louise Day Hicks (who The Harvard Crimson had once dubbed “Boston’s first lady of racism”) had become President? Think of when she campaigned for Mayor of Boston in 1967 and how she decided to telegraph her racism — “You know where I stand” — and how closely that one line mirrors some of the deliberate bourgeois in-and-out-ness we’ve seen today (and think of how she tried to describe her stance of racial moderation, as J. Anthony Lukas noted in Common Ground — “Because of social conditions beyond our control, sections of our city have become predominantly Negro areas”), especially when we twin that vague rhetoric with the reality of action and choice, as James Aloisi noted in a 2013 edition of Commonwealth Magazine —
Hicks listened to the NAACP as it made its case to the School Committee, and for a brief time she toyed with offering her support to their cause — this, but she quickly abandoned that route and issued a public statement declaring that “We do not have segregation in the Boston schools.” This statement flew in the face of the facts, and Louise Day Hicks must have known that. At least 13 schools in Boston had student populations that were 90 percent black and the city’s expenditure per pupil in those schools was significantly less than the same expenditure in schools with disproportionately white student populations.
So what does that mean? Does that mean that we’re all going to continue to experience what life was like in South Boston and Roxbury in 1973 until Robert Mueller puts a merciful end to all this? And, if that’s true, what shall we do until that moment comes? What exists in the history — if anything, beyond our more optimistic vision — that can serve as a potential guide for us? (Besides seeking out what exists in ourselves and in each other?)
Is there a degree of strategic patience in play? If Freedom Schools couldn’t immediately overcome Hicks’s intransigence when she was on the school board (and think of Freedom Square’s attempt to create an Occupy-like response to police injustice in Chicago), how should long-term thinking align itself here? What should it do when thinking about the resegregation of school districts, as ProPublica, The New York Times, and The Washington Post have noted over the past three years? Is it to understand that if you feel like the one mother sending their child to an integrated school — to the outright daily morning harassment of other mothers — you might have to put up with that feeling for a while?
To fight both resegregation and the damage that comes about when people aren’t reminded of the benefits of diversity and integration, would it be worth forming networks of diverse, well-integrated cities and having them lobby regions of racial concern in the country? That Oakland, Virginia Beach, Houston, Irvine, New York City, and others can reach out to St. Louis, Albuquerque, and others — even at the level of housing departments or police force, or any of the subdivisions of those that exist — and find ways to nudge them in the right direction at the level of city-to-city governance? And will someone with an interest in standing up for racial justice traveling from Houston to somewhere else in the country with plans to meet with a police force — will they stop one night at a hotel room, turn on the television, and see this?
And if they do stop at that hotel, if they do turn on the television, and if that speech is playing on the television, what will they think? What will they think when they hear, “Our flag is red, white and blue, but our nation is a rainbow — red, yellow, brown, black and white — and we’re all precious in God’s sight?” Or when Jackson declares the following:
The Rainbow is making room for the Native American, the most exploited people of all, a people with the greatest moral claim amongst us. We support them as they seek the restoration of their ancient land and claim amongst us. We support them as they seek the restoration of land and water rights, as they seek to preserve their ancestral homeland and the beauty of a land that was once all theirs. They can never receive a fair share for all they have given us. They must finally have a fair chance to develop their great resources and to preserve their people and their culture.
What, then? With Obama occupying the present moment of the national narrative and Clinton’s comment on Obama by way of Jesse Jackson before that, a closer look at Jackson’s two campaigns — let alone the campaigns run by Hiram Revels, Blanche Bruce, or any of the African American who served in the House in that time of Reconstruction — seems deserving of a place in our collective mental cupboard, not only for the fictitious traveler from Houston, not only for the fictitious cops who will be visited, but for us as well.
In an essay on reparations, I wrote about how the election of President Obama included something that hadn’t been dealt with by a decent portion of the country, and that was a question of what constituted its conscience and what constituted its pain. That question still stands.
So what are we going to do about that? What happens when reparations and reconciliation becoming one tool out of many? What happened when Grant tried to go after the KKK? It was too late for some families in South Carolina in 1870’s, but it did lead to the arrest of thousands.
What happened when Morris Dees — the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center — tried to go after the KKK? It was too late for Michael Donald, where — in 1981 — the following scene unfolded —
A few blocks away, in a racially mixed neighborhood about a mile from the Mobile police station, Michael Donald’s body was still hanging from a tree. Around his neck was a perfectly tied noose with 13 loops. On a front porch across the street, watching police gather evidence, were members of the United Klans of America, once the largest and, according to civil rights lawyers, the most violent of the Ku Klux Klans. Less than two hours after finding Michael Donald’s body, Mobile police would interview these Klansmen. Lawmen learned only much later, however, what Bennie Jack Hays, the 64-year-old Titan of the United Klans, was saying as he stood on the porch that morning. ‘’A pretty sight,’’ commented Hays, according to a fellow Klansman. ‘’That’s gonna look good on the news. Gonna look good for the Klan.’’
— but it did lead to the legal strategy of civil lawsuits that led to monetary damages that would subsequently bankrupt the United Klans of America, Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance, and the Aryan Nations.
So what of the linkage between the Pepe Frogs, Milo, Bannon, and the Mercers? What of Mercer treating Breitbart the way Murdoch treated The Sun? What of Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, and Fox? What of Alex Jones? What of birtherism? What of David Duke? What of Richard Spencer? What of the Russians recognizing the existence of this? What of Jeff Sessions reversing protection for transgender workers? What of Betsy DeVos saying that the office of Civil Rights Investigations will be rendered ‘neutral?’ (Is there such a thing as ‘too much Civil Rights’ run amuck?) What is the solution for that?