A week or two ago, in a broker licensing class regarding the Fair Housing Act, the instructor said something interesting. His theory was that the more we as a society are forced to get along, the better we seem to get along. It sounded great but, honestly, it doesn’t seem to hold true.
Fair Housing class was a three-hour exposition on the various ways through American history where discrimination was not only allowed but written into the fabric of the nation’s laws. Start with the obvious – the Constitution itself, which counted blacks as partial humans and excluded blacks, women and non-landholding males as citizens – and work through various court decisions (think Dred Scott, written by the infamous Roger Taney) and such.
There’s the Fourteenth Amendment passed in the wake of the Civil War which says …
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
… and was roundly ignored by many former Confederate states for the better part of 100 years thereafter. (Think slavery ended after the Civil War, at least in practice? Check out Douglas Blackmon’s excellent Slavery by Another Name.)
Fair Housing laws started with the prohibition on discriminating against buyers/renters based on their race, religion, national origin, color or sex and have since expanded to include familial status and disability. There are some exceptions, but they really don’t have anything to do with the point.
Everybody Love Everybody sounds great coming out of the mouth of the mythical Jackie Moon, but it’s not particularly realistic. And it, along with my instructor’s theory that we seem to get along better the more we are required to do so, seem to be entirely out of touch with the reality of America as we know it.
There’s no question that the subhuman scum marching in support of white rights in Charlottesville this past weekend represent a rather small, under-evolved slice of the American populace. But that doesn’t change the fact that our elected president ran on a platform that would have been popular in the 1850s in much of the country, or even 1930s Germany, where the dominant theme was that there were this group of “others” responsible for the bulk of what’s going wrong in your lives. (Don’t read too much into this and accuse me of calling him out as a Nazi or racist; I’m simply pointing out that his platform of blame has historical echoes.) A vehicle driven through a crowd in Nice or London is immediately tweeted as an act of terrorism; when it happens here in the United States and the driver doesn’t fit the description of the “others” blamed for all that is wrong, then those struck by the car are labeled as equally responsible with the driver.
Though it seems to have become such, this shouldn’t be a question of which political party you belong to, whether you count yourself liberal, conservative or somewhere in between. It’s a question of common decency, not politics. Some will argue I shouldn’t write of such things on a business blog but, as I debated this for the past several days, I decided that if a reader finds themselves in sympathy with the planned demonstrators in Virginia this weekend past, I don’t really want your business anyway and am happy to lose your readership.
In some ways, the country has made considerable strides to shunt such backward thinking into the margins to the point that many forgot it still existed. Unfortunately, it seems that such marginal, strident views have been given permission to come back out into the sunlight. If there’s any positive to be found, it’s in that the scales have been lifted from the eyes of many and it’s more apparent than ever how much farther we have to go.