Thursday, February 5, 2015

Black protest and white backlash, courtesy of St. Louis American

"During a lively and intense discussion about Ferguson on the longstanding local PBS show “Donnybrook,” the show’s moderator and provocateur, Charlie Brennan, suggested that the movement had “jumped the shark.”

Although I was not familiar with that phrase, it was clear from the context that he was arguing that the movement had begun its descent. I later learned that the phrase, which grew out of a seventies TV sit-com, means, according to Wikipedia, “the moment when a brand, design, franchise or creative effort’s evolution declines.” Although I agree with those on the show who disagreed with Brennan, I think that if this movement to change the criminal justice system and ameliorate the condition of black youth is to continue, we have to acknowledge and address something that is more threatening to it than an evolutionary decline – white backlash

While today we see the nation embracing and glorifying in movies the Civil Rights Movement, arguably, we are in this century faced with Ferguson because of the untold story of the white backlash that followed the movement. For the history that followed is the history of the clock being turned back.

America achieving an equal and integrated educational system through bussing; opposition to diverse residential areas by white flight to the suburbs; and the systematic appointment of judges ideologically intent on undoing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It is the history of a war on urban America, with the elimination of vital social programs and the incarceration of black men in unprecedented numbers. It was this backlash that caused America to be delayed electing a black president, despite racism becoming un-American and unfashionable as far back as the 1971 sitcom “All in the Family,” and despite a black president being portrayed as a realistic possibility as far back as the 1972 movie “The Man.” For the Civil Rights Movement generation, Barak Obama’s election was something they never imagined, while for the generation that followed King, his election was just a long time coming. 

That generation naively thought that the rightness of the Civil Rights Movement would cause it to be self-sustaining, and that the panoply of civil rights laws enacted during the course of the movement would be self-enforcing. It did not foresee that the fight against the white backlash to the movement would be as formidable as the fight of the movement. The millennial Ferguson demonstrators need to be aware of the power of this backlash, and should take a page from history to try to avert it. We see this backlash manifesting itself now in the call for prosecutors and courts to be more repressive with mandatory sentencing laws, and in the response of whites to black-on-black murders being that this negates the legitimacy of any protest about murders by white police. What creates the backlash is whites misperceiving blacks as demonstrating without seeking solutions, engaging in violent protests, and not taking responsibility for their community’s condition. 

There is a difference between white resistance and white backlash. The resistance to the changes the Ferguson movement seeks is to be tenaciously fought against by the protesters. The backlash is to be fought against by having a movement grounded in principles, guided by goals, and that seeks change both outside of and within the black community." Courtesy of St. Louis American.

Attorney Eric E. Vickers, guest columnist

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