These are dark days, indeed. A pandemic swept the world and with it our country, turning everyone's life upside down. And just as we started to manage the virus and its impact, the nation has been woke to a long-standing racial undercurrent – one to which most would not care to admit – which spawned 14 days, as of this writing, of endless protests here and around the world.
It's the same undercurrent that my parents spoke of in the late 1950's when telling us at the dinner table of how, just years earlier, that a black person in Detroit had to cede the sidewalk to a white person because that is the way it always was.
It's the same undercurrent that during the 1967 Detroit riots prompted our suburban neighbors to man their porch lawn chairs with rifles and shotguns at their side in case those of color moved the violence over the Eight Mile border.
That was 50 to 60 years ago. Not much has changed.
Now that undercurrent is being exposed, not the first time but with a renewed collective energy that has gripped the nation. A scab ripped from a festering sore. One more death of a non-white citizen in an inexplicable situation involving what has all the appearances of an act of violence by a law enforcement officer that cost George Floyd his life. This time modern tech wonders placed all of us at the scene for a front row seat as the sad drama unfolded outside a deli in Minneapolis.
It's a time when we lack national leadership when we need it most. At any other time we would have turned to Congress for relief when the administration veers from what is considered sacred Constitutional norms or the generally accepted societal rules, but GOP congressional enablers still have a stranglehold on the Senate so not much moves in large part out of fear that they could become targets for Trump's twitter rantings to his base, his prime concern.
We are then left with an ever-weakening national leader already losing support for a less-than-adequate early response to the pandemic. His response to the national turmoil over racial concerns is to lash out and surrender to his autocratic tendencies, ramping up a political agenda of paranoia and division. Worrying more about his dimming reelection chances rather than focusing on addressing the concerns of a nation and reuniting us in troubled times.
So Trump has latched on to the platform issue of being the law and order president, which served Nixon well when he first ran coming off the national protests over the Vietnam War. Hence the threats from the commander in chief that he will use the War Powers Act to place military troops in local communities, unidentifiable black-clad special forces on the streets of Washington D.C., and rhetoric that only inflames those exercising their right to air their grievances through mass protests.
But the protests today differ from those of the Vietnam era. When we took to the streets then, it was mostly a youth movement that started on college campuses and it took a couple of years, and much family division, before the anti-war sentiment spread to the general population.
The marches today exploded instantly in cities and towns, large and small. Young and old. All races. And lasting for days and nights on end. Coronavirus threats be dammed.
One has to hope that the renewed focus on the issues of racial inequalities – be it policing tactics or economic and educational inequities – will prompt us as a society to start addressing necessary change rather than just letting it to fade back into a silent undercurrent that only goes public when the next non-white life is lost.
Meanwhile, this administration continues to give us daily reminders of the importance of casting a vote come the November general election.
Face mask culture war: Thanks to lack of leadership by example from President Trump, the reopening precaution of continuing to wearing a face mask when going out in public and interacting with other members of the population, especially in enclosed spaces, has been weaponized as part of the culture/political war. So when I recently went to pick up an order at my favorite Birmingham pizzeria, I was the only person wearing a face mask, other than the owner and his workers. Not the father and his teenage son who were also waiting for an order. Not the gaggle of eight teenage girls standing shoulder-to-shoulder in line or others entering the establishment, despite prominent signs posted on the door of the business saying face masks were mandatory. So a word of advice to merchants – masks should be mandatory for the foreseeable future or you will lose customers like me. Advice for customers – don't put the merchants in a position of having to refuse you service for violating the mask requirement, just like the requirement that you wear shoes and a shirt that has been in effect for however many decades. Further, because I am part of the risk group defined by medical professionals, those not wearing a mask potentially threaten my life and the lives of my family members. It's that simple.
Shop local: One last push to support local businesses who have been decimated by the coronavirus lockdown, and in Birmingham by the second major road construction project in a two-year period which will run through August. Get off the internet, get in the car and travel out to support the businesses which are a critical part of the fabric of our local communities.