The case of the state of Florida v George Zimmerman will live in the annals of American history as a turning point in our centuries-long Conversation About Race, a discussion that has taken many twists and turns down through the generations. Remember when our current Attorney General came into office claiming it was a Conversation we were too cowardly to have? We didn’t know it at the time but that risible, rankly untruthful remark by Holder, made during Black History Month in 2009, was a warning shot fired across the bow of White People. Yes, we had been loaded onto our own separate ship, and our Attorney General was putting us on notice that the BGI (Black Grievance Industry) was now in the driver’s seat and we’d better make sure our lifeboats were in order.
But let’s go back a ways — back to the start of it all. Consider this:
Perhaps that Conversation itself was inherently flawed at our very beginnings? Is it the case that the long arms of karmic consequence reach down to us even now, to grab at our throats because of our Founders’ refusal to firmly confront the issue of slavery? Is that America’s Original Sin? Those men gathered in stifling back rooms in Philadelphia, hunkered down to hammer out something everyone could live with, had two ugly choices in the face of the exigencies of the situation.
The first “choice” would have been to refuse to give in to the Southern colonies on the issue of slavery and to demand surcease as the price for the South’s inclusion in this fledgling enterprise. The Northern and Mid-Atlantic delegates knew full well that the Southern colonies were adamant about keeping slavery legal. Thus, if the North pushed the issue, the grand dream of a federation free of King George’s heavy hand would die a-borning. Or rather, it would die on the battlefield itself, since they were already engaged in the conflict. Only unity could save the North and South from ruination and widespread executions of the rebel colonists.
The second choice, the path they took finally, was to appease the South and accept what they saw as an odious “institution”. Those men knew they were only kicking the can down the road to some future point when slavery would inflame and divide the country, but they thought it could be settled in a safer time and place, away from the pressures brought about by their Rebellion. Yes, they were certain that what they were bequeathing to future generations would carry a price, but I’ve often wondered this: if the Founders could have truly foreseen the consequences — the deaths of 650,000 men in horrific battles — would they have gone forward anyway?
Ruminating over the choices made by those signers of the Declaration of Independence is part of the Conversation that Eric Holder, with his Race-ist Filter permanently installed, can no longer hear nor see. Perhaps he never could.
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Nonetheless, the Conversation has continued down the generations since it first began. Its origins are coterminous with America’s own beginning. The talk has taken many twists and turns over the years, in large part driven by the engine of justice, however ill-defined that virtue may be. All of us are born with that sense of “rightness” hardwired into whatever it is that makes us human. That desire can be suppressed, denied, or otherwise twisted, but nothing can destroy it, not even death. Many tyrannies, both personal and corporate, have taught us this hard lesson repeatedly, but it never stops the power-hungry from their attempts to engineer the plebes into thinking differently.
It is inevitable that along with those who hunger for justice come those who hunger for power. This conundrum repeats itself in every generation, and sometimes we can’t separate the wheat from the chaff until long after even the gleaners have left the field.
The Civil War, with its 700,000 dead (no one really knows for sure) was supposed to have settled the argument. But the thoughtful among us never really believed a war would work, because weapons were, and remain always, the wrong tools for framing The Conversation. All that wars do is divide and conquer; feuds have a way of becoming eternal. One has only to study the history of the wider world to understand this phenomenon. If people perceive that Justice wasn’t served, then The Conversation goes underground, but it still continues. And the fiercest wars become the ones generated between those who are nearest, those in whom we can perceive just the slightest difference — and maybe the slightest, glancing blow of indifference. Grievances mount. Anger divides. The experience of scarcity accumulates.