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Black Lives Do Not Matter

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Black lives do not matter. If they did, the expression would not be necessary. They never have, beginning with the origins of our country in slavery. Africans were slaves because white people did not consider them human. The Constitution more or less supported that. After the Civil War, black people were no longer technically regarded as slaves but they were largely treated the same way. Jim Crow assured that—and most aspects of their lives (in both the South and the North) were designed to keep them subservient: education, housing, jobs, and justice especially.

Mostly, the policy continues until today. “Black Is Beautiful” helped improve the dignity of African-Americans but not the way white people looked at them. Proof? First, Barak Obama’s struggle to escape racism (mostly covert) since his first inauguration. “You lie!” a congressman shouts out during one of Obama’s state-of-the-union addresses. Would that have happened if Obama were white? Fifty plus attempts to try to eliminate Obamacare. And then there’s the mantra of the Republican Party: Our goal is to make certain that Obama becomes a one-term president. Conservatives would rather destroy the country than give Obama one iota of credit for anything. They are determined that his place in history will be minor. They have worked full-time at assuring that.

Brown lives do not matter much either: Native Americans and Hispanics, the latter in the current shouting match among Republican presidential candidates to cater to the dying white majority in the country. Mostly, that means kowtowing to poorly educated white males with few job prospects who have seen their lot threatened for close to forty years. The rise of feminism in the 1970s frightened the hell out of them but these white guys always assumed that as long as prejudice against African Americans remained as it had been in the past, they would be chosen before more qualified black job candidates. Finally, the educational gap—especially between African-American women and lower class white males—became so obvious that these white men began to lose out. They’re frightened to death about the future when white people will be a minority in the United States. Their privilege—based solely on the color of their skin—is about to run out.

This largely explains the fanatical Republican presidential candidates, building on their belief that black lives do not matter. Hispanics were added to their outcry at the beginning of the campaign saga. Then—when the opportunity of terrorism arrived—they extended their outrage to Muslims. How ironic that Republican presidential candidates have embraced the ISIS playbook: frighten the hell out of people so they’ll cheer your racist screed. Who will be added to the list next? Asians, for undermining our economy? Jews again, since so many liberal commentators are Jewish? Don’t even mention gays. So racism and gender bias are alive and well in the United States as they have always been.

The country is in a terrible mess. Huge problems face us as a nation, and our elected representatives are largely ignoring them. Donald Trump has assured his followers that he’ll fix everything once he’s elected, but he hasn’t provided a clue as to how he’d do this. Democrats are frightened to death that racism is threatening to take us back to concentration camps, closed borders, and worse. And the shrinking number of poorly educated and poorly skilled white guys believe that all they need to do is attack Planned Parenthood centers and the country’s problems will disappear. Their slightly more informed representatives in Congress believe that the problems of the country’s increasing population and rapidly graying elders can be addressed with reduced funding. Some of them scream for another war, but one they won’t want to fund by raising taxes or reinstating the draft because that might jeopardize the future of their own sons and daughters.

Black lives do not matter but neither does much else, as long as the status quo can be retained and white guys (of all economic and educational levels) can continue to control virtually everything. Their denial of climate change is a fear that they will lose the ability to control the world they have kept in their grasp for so many years. As Alberto Moravia wrote in Which Tribe Do You Belong To? (1974),

“There is no greater suffering for man to feel than his cultural foundations giving way beneath him.” Moravia was writing about another context and another time. But, changing the word “suffering” in his remark to “fear,” it is possible to understand the context of white American men and the suffering they have caused people of other colors, ethnicities, genders, and religions.

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Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

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