Jeff McAlister

Jeff McAlister

It goes without saying that, since the tragic death of George Floyd a few months ago, the subject of race has rivaled COVID-19 as a preoccupation of the American mass media, and as a result, that of the public as well.

Two front-page stories Aug. 11 in the News-Journal, one regarding the fate of a century-old monument on the lawn of the Gregg County Courthouse and the other noting a resolution on racism voted on by the Longview ISD school board, reflect this continued obsession.

The resolution on racism and racial injustice, which passed the school board by a six-to-one vote, states that “the Board declares that the lives of Black and Brown students and community members matter and have value, that the Board is committed to continually addressing systemic racism towards ethnically diverse students, and the Board will continue to prioritize and target the academic achievements of all students.”

It is hard to see why such a statement was deemed necessary to pass. Of course, that the lives of minority students matter and have value is hardly controversial in 2020. But how did the phrase “systemic racism” find its way into the statement? Have the signers forgotten Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “affirmative action” and other policies which, for better and for worse, have had as their general aim to heal, in a legal sense, the wounds of past racial injustices?

If anything, American institutions over the past half-century have been more defined by a systemic anti-racism than otherwise. That is not to say that racist attitudes no longer exist. They will probably exist as long as the effects of original sin exist. But to talk as if no progress had been made at all over the last few generations is unhelpful.

I notice that the colors referred to in the resolution are capitalized, as if they were proper names. I suppose they are following the lead of the Associated Press, which recently updated its style manual to please its “woke” readership, or better, whoever happens to be whispering in their ears.

This, like the reference to systemic racism, probably amounts to little more than “virtue signaling” and the unfortunate influence of ideological manipulation. But one should expect better from those who have a hand in shaping the curriculum and other decisions affecting our taxpayer-funded public schools.

The LISD trustee who urged the board to vote for the resolution alluded strongly to the legacy of slavery and segregation, implying a connection between that and a lack of access to supplies and technology on Longview’s south side. It is incredibly easy to make such sweeping assertions, but they rarely solve the problem at hand.

Many have traced the dysfunction in contemporary black families to the history of American slavery. But as Thomas Sowell, the veteran scholar and economist, has observed, “most black children grew up in two-parent families, even under slavery itself, and for generations thereafter. As recently as 1960, two-thirds of black children were still living in two-parent families. A century ago, a slightly higher percentage of blacks were married than were whites.”

We should all be grateful that slavery was abolished in our land — and note well that Western civilization was the first to do so. We should also be glad for the abolition of segregation and for genuine progress in achieving equal justice under law. But we cannot go back to simply blaming slavery and Jim Crow for whatever contemporary problems we may be experiencing. And whatever one may think of the lonely, mute Confederate soldier which, as I write this, remains on the courthouse lawn, he has no ability to keep anyone down.

Fifty-seven years ago, a young African-American minister drew deeply from the well of our Judeo-Christian tradition and publicly urged that Americans be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

In seeking to resolve our deepening divisions, we should repair not to a dubious organization with a seductive slogan — owing its inspiration to Marxism and critical race theory — but to the One who made us in His image and from one blood.

— Jeff McAlister, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum.