Health care and the residual effects of race
The health care debate raged for more than a year and a half. During that time we did not experience a credible discussion of the health care proposal because of the vitriolic accusations by conservative talk show hosts that motivated an emotional and largely demagogic constituency. This was unfortunate because the merits of the health care bill have not been understood by the general population because proponents had to spend time defending the irrational statements. Think about the various unfounded claims that were made: the bill would establish death panels, it's socialism, it would result in abortion on demand. The irrational claims have continued to proliferate the debate.
Racism also reared its ugly head. It has been absolutely embarrassing for the nation to see people wearing monkey masks with Obama written across the forehead. Legislators were spit upon and the "N"-word was hurled at black lawmakers. It has been an ugly time.
This despicable behavior has not only been an embarrassment to the United States in the world arena, but I believe that it is endemic of where we are as a country. People of different races still do not live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same schools, worship in the same churches, or have the same opportunities. Race and racism continue to be an issue.
People had hoped that the election of a black president would be the last hurdle, but instead we find the virus continues to plague the American people and the nation.
It is clear to me that we are well within the third Reconstruction in the history of race and the nation. The first Reconstruction occurred after the Civil War when "one person-one vote" was enforced. This meant that blacks were elected to office all across the south, including some to the halls of congress. Then the cry went out from proponents of the confederacy that they needed to "take our country and government back!" These cries resulted in coup d'états in places like Wilmington, N.C. where the newly elected town council members were simply murdered and replaced. It was a message that resounded throughout the land. Poll and literacy taxes were imposed and the end result was that blacks who had tasted a modicum of participating in the so-called democratic process were silenced and nullified.
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s marked the second Reconstruction. In this movement such issues as voting rights, public accommodations, fair housing and affirmative action were addressed as means of bringing people who had historically been denied economic opportunity into the stream of career and financial advancement. Then the cry from the political right again was raised, to "take our country and government back" and forces galvanized under Ronald Reagan and proceeded to dismantle the changes that were made and effectively turn back the clock.
Now we have a black president and are finally discussing the things that are vitally important to people of color and the poor and yet the same refrain is heard. It is the third Reconstruction and the question is will we allow the clock to be turned back again?
It is clear that what is being stated is that black people and other people of color are not considered an integral part of the United States by powerful forces within the nation. Racism and racist attitudes are alive and well. It clearly points out the moral and ethical disease that is at the core of the American fabric. After the election of President Obama, some declared that we had entered a post-racial era. It is sad how quickly that hope dissolved. Old themes have been declared, a line drawn in the sand, and we shall see if we go on as a nation or fight a new civil war.
What occurred during the health care debate was not pretty, but it was historically American.
Rev. Graylan Hagler is pastor at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C.
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