Friday, June 19, 2015

Identifying as Black and Brown

I'm starting to get annoyed with white people. We're sitting pretty--on top of the cultural, educational and economic food chain--and still we can't seem to figure out how to help our black and brown brothers and sisters. We need to go back to kindergarten to learn to share.

Im not talking about the white nutzos, the hate-killers. And I'm not talking about the white folks who are themselves struggling to get by; they've got enough problems of their own, and very little to share. I'm talking about you and me.

When are we going to do more than shake our heads in sadness and disgust when blacks get senslessly murdered? By racists. By cops. When are we going to do more than express dismay over dinner with our friends at the fact that so many young black men are in prison? When is the extraordinary educational achievement of my friend Gabby Aguilar, the first in her immigrant family to go to college, going to become the norm instead of a rarity?

Black and brown poverty is the civil rights issue of our time. Just as voting rights were the issue of a half century ago (and still are today, come to think of it). Martin Luther King knew that. He had just begun his crusade against poverty when he was assassinated. Lyndon Johnson, a son of Texas who would not be welcome today in Rick Perry country, knew it. He tried, but he didn't get far. Since then, it doesn't look to me like we've even been trying.

It's not enough to support social service programs. The problem is socio-economic segregation. As long as poor people--black, brown or white--are effectively ghettoized, they are not going to have the same opportunities as those living together in affluence. We may say we care, but we're not moving into Watts or East Palo Alto. 

I have no idea what the answer is, but I do know this: if we cared more, if we thought of poor black and Hispanic children as if they were our own children, we would come up with something. We're just not trying hard enough.

"In the end," Martin Luther King famously said, "we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."


  1. Mac, I so agree with you. I think the answer has to be on all fronts, all at once, huge and small, national and local. I do see such good organizations and people making big efforts to address the socioeconomic divide . . . yet as long as our tax laws and other systemic forms are in place, the rich keep getting richer, the poor poorer. I am heartened by politicians like Bernie Sanders, who is trying to raise our national consciousness about inequality. I'm heartened by educators who struggle so hard to help kids who struggle with few resources and empty stomachs. I'm heartened by creative artists like my daughter, who advocates for diversity across the board -- playwrights, creative teams, actors, audience members. Despair isn't the answer, I agree -- it's too easy.

    1. Diversity and inclusiveness are the answers, Harriet. I wish there were a way to make it go faster. Right now it's like water soaking into the edge of a piece of paper as big as the world.