Sometimes, when I notice things, it takes a minute for it all to register, for me to make sense – or realize that I cannot make sense – out of what I see.
That’s what happened last week. The world was shocked at the news of the death of Steve Jobs, our own American guru who arguably may have made the biggest difference in all of our lives than anyone since Thomas Edison or the Wright Brothers.
I was shocked and saddened; Jobs was fairly young and his genius will be missed.
But I was also saddened because two other people died last week who also changed the lives of many Americans and yet their deaths were hardly mentioned or even covered by the news: the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Prof. Derrick Bell.
Though they fought in different venues, both Shuttlesworth and Bell were fierce and tenacious soldiers in the battles for civil rights waged during the 60s and beyond. While Shuttlesworth faced overt violence and danger as he fought for basic civil rights of African Americans, including their right to vote, Bell fought a more insidious violence, that non-verbal racial animosity that keeps segregation a reality in the academy.
Shuttlesworth put his life on the line in the fight for justice; Bell put his livelihood on the line as he fought pristine educational establishments on their hiring practices which too often kept African Americans and women out of tenured positions.
Shuttlesworth was a Christian minister; Bell was the first African American to earn tenure at Harvard University, a position he sacrificed for his beliefs.
The omission of mention of the deaths of these two men bothered me so much that I ended up tweeting Anderson Cooper, asking him if CNN was seriously not going to cover these stories? Though I did not see or hear reports all that day, I was told they were done …
But the “below the fold” attitude regarding the deaths of Shuttlesworth and Bell which I observed on that day gave me pause. I had attended a meeting just that day sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund at which Marian Wright Edelman said that the state of black, brown and poor people in this country is as bad as it was immediately after the Civil War.
She is not the only person who has said the same. The fact that the progress made by black people especially seems to be moving backward and not forward is sobering and troubling. The old adage, “If you’re white, you’re right, if you’re yellow, you’re mellow, if you’re brown, stick around, but if you’re black, get back” seems to be a permanent part of America’s ethos.
Steve Jobs was an admirable man, a genius for sure, but Shuttlesworth and Bell were admirable and heroic, risking life and livelihood for the sake of dispossessed people.
Why doesn’t America care about that?
It is the 21st century. Why hasn’t America gotten rid of her peculiar virus called racism? To add fuel to that thought, my daughter told me of how a very upscale neighborhood near us had an incident of racial hatred just last week; someone spray-painted the “n” word on the car of an African American family that recently moved in.
“Mom,” she said, “Isn’t this the 21st century? Are we still going through this kind of stuff?
Apparently so. It is troubling, but the truth of the matter is, America is not well, not even close. In spite of the Civil War and the civil rights era, the virus called racism is still eating away at the core of this nation.
That is a candid observation.