The passing of an era is barely noticed when it actually occurs. It’s hard to imagine millions waking up one morning and celebrating the arrival of the Age of Enlightenment let alone the birth of the Renaissance. A similar demarcation has occurred regarding the Civil Rights movement. To condense a long story, with the end of the Obama administration this movement has gone from one with a discernible, albeit somewhat contentious, agenda to a mishmash of foolish slogans and theatrical gestures that lack any ideological coherence.
The landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954) was undoubtedly the beginning of the Modern Civil Rights movement. This movement sought—usually successfully– fairly specific objectives– court decrees to eliminate state-imposed racial segregation, the banning of racial discrimination in public accommodations and universities receiving public funding, equal access to the ballot (including measures to elect more blacks), compensatory programs for past injustices (e.g., affirmative action) and so on. Of the utmost importance, this agenda was directed by a few well-established organizations that provided a degree of reasonableness, even sanity to these demands. Yes, thousands of Detroit rioters might impart a sense of urgency to enacting a jobs program but the final outcome reflected the thinking of sensible lawyers and policy wonks.
This focus has largely vanished as “the movement” has become fragmented and thus no longer offers a clear-cut legislative/legal agenda. There is an impromptu, attention deficit disorder quality to today’s demands. The days when a few prominent leaders could energize the troops by imploring them to mobilize on behalf of a pending bill is long gone.
This even applied to long-established civil rights organization such as the NACCP. Its educational demands include the doomed-to-fail spending yet more public money on “needy” students, developing programs to award diplomas to everyone (yes, everyone) and eliminating zero tolerance discipline so as to keep kids in school. Also endorsed is multicultural education but it opposes charter schools. Regarding criminal justice, “The NAACP advocates for smarter, results-based criminal justice policies to keep our communities safe, including treatment for addiction and mental health problems, judicial discretion in sentencing, and an end to racial disparities at all levels of the system.” A similar loopy boilerplate is offered on healthcare: “This mission includes a focus on the right of African Americans and other people of color to have optimal health outcomes and access to timely, quality, affordable health care. African Americans continue to have the highest incidence, prevalence and mortality rates from chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, and issues like HIV/AIDS continue to overwhelm the Black community more so than any other racial or ethnic group.”
The Congressional Black Caucus likewise offers up a potpourri that continues to beat the dead horse of black voter suppression, their opposition to Trump reinstating the war on drugs, Trump’s opposition to affirmative action in higher education and his lack of enforcing civil rights laws. Throw in the Caucus’ call for eliminating private prisons and for reasons that are unclear, a condemnation of the administration’s anti-Islamic policies. The existence of statues of Confederate figures on federal property is also condemned along with a reference to expelling (unnamed) white supremacists from the White House.
The upshot of this vacuous hodge-podge is, predictably, a vacuum and into this vacuum flows a circus of racial entrepreneurs ever willing to profit from race-related incidents. After all, given today’s media appetite for “interesting” news, it takes little to certify oneself as a “racial spokesman” available to offer instant commentary on today’s attention-getting outage. How else can you explain the popularity of Maxine Waters (D-CA) other than her penchant for nutty sound bites?
A notable hotbed of this reality-challenged make-it-up-as-you-go-along mentality is, of course, today’s campus where even a hoax will trigger a media-worthy demonstration by outraged black students and their white social justice warrior allies. One website compiled a list of these demands in 2015 and among the most common were hiring more minority faculty, mandatory diversity training for all students, cultural centers exclusively for minority students, more mental health centers for black students and eliminating all racially offensive mascots and nicknames. More recently, protestors have shut down the speeches of alleged white racists such as Charles Murray, complained about cultural appropriations, micro-aggressions and rallied against the most mysterious and powerful force in the universe–white privilege .
No doubt, the preeminent example of this new black civil rights style is Black Lives Matter (BLM), a group lacking formal structures but specializing in holding up crude placards and shouting slogans such as “No Justice, No Peace.” Hard to imagine BLM having an elected president, a legal incorporation, a board of trustees, a dues-paying membership and all the rest that characterizes traditional groups such as the National Urban League. To be blunt, BLM is just a collection of angry blacks whose half-life is perhaps two years, at most.
But, more important for our purposes, are the bizarre nature of its demands. It recently released A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom and Justice,” a program put together—the group claims—by dozens of affiliated activists that consists of six core demands and 40 policy priorities: ending the war on black people, reparations for past and continuing harms, disinvestment from institutions that harm black people, economic justice and collective community ownership of economic resources, community control of laws, institutions and policies that impact the black community and, lastly, independent black political power and black self-determination in all areas of society. Additional proposals include the immediate release of all those people of color incarcerated for drug offenses, sex work-related and youth crimes, plus the demilitarization of the police and the end of systematic attacks on black youth. There’s more but this should suffice.
BLM is hardly alone in offering up hare-brained rhetoric somehow designed “to help blacks achieve equality.” Representative Al Green (D-Tex) just recently submitted articles of Impeachment to the House. This laundry list of alleged offenses included the President’s equivocating response to events in Charlottesville, Virginia, his assertion that President Obama had ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower, his claim regarding voter fraud in the 2016 election and, more generally, the accusation that President Trump had “undermined the integrity of his office” and “brought disrepute on the presidency.”
Lastly in this sampling are the grievances expressed by several National Football League players who refuse to stand during the national anthem. Despite all the attention given to this defiance, it’s unclear exactly what is being protested other than opposition to alleged police brutality and the unspecified injustices suffered by African Americans.
What explains the drift into often unreal if not bizarre incoherence? Most evidently, barely anything (perhaps nothing) in the old agenda works as intended and those policies that might, conceivably perform are either illegal, beyond reach or truly unspeakable. Now imagine if all possible proposals to end racial inequality were put in menu form and presented to government officials. But, next to each item would be a little notation, for example, an * or †. These would indicate “does not work,” “makes things worse,” or “is currently illegal” and let me suggest that the remaining options (if any) would be rather unappetizing, for example, sterilizing drug-addicted women. In other words, given past failures, civil rights advocates will lurch from one vague stupidity to the next since past proposals are either doomed to fail or pie in the sky.
The drift toward nuttiness is inevitable. Who would have predicted all the fuss about statues of Robert E. Lee or that professional football players could occupy center stage in a public discussion over racial inequality? Or that black actors would demand Oscars by racial quota? Moreover, the openness of American politics makes it crackpot friendly, a condition reinforced by a novelty obsessed mass media and the material rewards awaiting the next Al Sharpton. One might even argue that having an IQ exceeding 120 is a liability in attempting to join the “conversation on race.” The almost manic condemnation of President Trump as a white supremacist is but a harbinger of things to come and rest assured, there is nothing to stop this cacophony from getting even worse.