The Beauty and Dignity of Selma
Ferguson, Sigma and Selma! What statement if any do these incidents make about our society and how should they be interpreted? Are they predictive of a better future or a remnant of the dirty past? And what do they tell us about race, the nasty wound that never heals?
For example, the Justice Department’s study and report on the Michael Brown incident shows that in order to maintain social, political and economic dominance, the entire City of Ferguson engaged in an intention pattern of racism directed exclusively at African-Americans.
The Ferguson matter is particularly troubling as it involves institutionalized racism that is sealed in blood and joined at the hip to America’s real affirmative action program, i.e., the criminal justice system. As is typically the case, few will be punished, especially the immoral judges, malicious prosecutors, lying witnesses, sycophantic experts and biased jurors who are all co conspirators and therefore parties to the same crime.
The videotape of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at Oklahoma University chanting how “Niggas, especially those hanging from trees” will never be permitted to join the fraternity demonstrates the lingering propensity of individual and group racism. These are the same privileged “frat boys” who will soon elevate to leadership positions in our most powerful and influential institutions.
Both the Ferguson and Sigma situations are deplorable, intolerable examples of blatant racism. And all involved must be held accountable. We nonetheless urge caution lest we made a bad situation even worse.
The problem is how we approach the issue of race. Whenever these or other incidents occur, the first thing we do is go to war, bringing to the contest all the weapons of mass destruction, armament, defenses, fear, rage, vehemence and drama we can muster.
Each camp spreads the hate, as the incident is used as a war club, a cudgel to beat the opposition into submission; to establish moral superiority, personal and/or group rectitude, all the while screaming, “see I told you so. I told you I was right.”
The problem with this approach is that no matter who wins or loses, irrespective of the facts and despite how the situation concludes, nothing is solved. The only by-products of war and drama are more of the same.
In addition, there is a substantial difference between being right and being successful. And relationships are not won by military campaigns and heated debates, even if one side dominates the other. Rather, each act of war produces angry scar tissue, social wreckage and soldiers who lie dead and dying on the battlefield. Consequently, there are no winners in our ongoing racial conflicts, only losers doomed to the futility of eternal conflict.
The evidence of this reality is all too real. Regarding the Ferguson matter, multiple officials have lost their jobs, two police officers were recently shot in front of the Police Department and Michael Brown remains deceased. And as to the Sigmas, investigators have discovered that the racism of the O. U. chapter may also exist in Texas and Louisiana. Animosity is further created by demonstrators who have discovered and protested outside the home of at least one of the expelled Sigma students chanting “racism is taught, silence is consent. Teach your kids another way. No modern-day KKK”.
Yet, there is still hope. And Selma models the way by providing a number of important lessons.
First, those involved did not march merely to march. They did not assemble only to express their outrage and frustration. And they did not protest solely to protest. They acted in order to achieve a specific, strategic objective; to show America via the relatively new medium of television the true face; the ugly reality of racism and to make this reality an intolerable part of the American conscience.
Second, the marchers were well-disciplined, possessing the moral courage and personal conviction necessary to counter hatred with love and violence with peace. They sought neither vindication nor the spotlight and none attempted to leverage the experience via lucrative book or movie deals. Theirs was a contest not against an enemy but for the soul of America. And their purpose was not to achieve personal glory but to ensure the human rights of all Americans.
Third, Selma was dramatic yet drama of a higher order. Absent was the tabloid spectacle, needless theatrics and negative personal attitude that is all too common.
Fourth, Selma spread unity and common cause across racial, class, gender and religious lines. It was African-Americans who took the lead in Selma and rightfully so. But it was Whites, Christians, Jews, men and women who stood with us shoulder to shoulder.
And fifth, Selma demonstrates the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. There were no scapegoats, name calling or finger-pointing. And none sought revenge or retribution. At marches end participants may have been bloodied and beaten but they did not succumb to hate. The nobility, strength of character, moral courage, unity of purpose and commitment to action were nothing less than stellar.
Selma succeeded where other movements failed because by focusing on faith, hope and optimism it appealed to our better selves. Throughout the entire incident, the marchers held the moral high ground. This is the beauty of Selma.
Former President George Bush exhibited both class and dignity by attending the 50th Anniversary of the March. For this he deserves praise. It is unfortunate that others of his party ignored the event, thereby failing the test of class and dignity.
Finally, at one time or another we have all uttered a racial or sexual epithet. None are perfect and we could all benefit from the beauty and dignity of Selma. So rather than protest at the home of the expelled Sigma student, the better course would have been to join hands and offer understanding and forgiveness to both the student and his family.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum