The Once Great Motor City
What Happened to the American Dream?
To the rest of the world, America remains a bewildered and troubled civilization. Often poets have a far more profound understanding of civilization than social scientists or public intellectuals. The African American poet Langston Hughes wrote in his poem:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
There are signs that the American dream has been deferred not just for black folks but also for the struggling white working class. There is much evidence that the bodypolitic has become a festering sore that is chronically infested. Historically, nothing seems to even get settled in America. The bodypolitic fell apart in 1860 and the question of slavery was settled by a bloody civil war that left over 300,000 Americans dead on the battlefield and even more shattered by wounds sustained in that catastrophic war.
The thirteen, fourteenth and fifteenth amendment to the constitution was to settle the issues of slavery, citizenship and the right to vote. With the compromise of 1877, the Union troops were drawn from the South and the defeated Confederate racists were allowed to create the Jim Crow segregated structure that re-institutionalized white supremacy and white privilege. The Jim Crow system confined the newly unchained black sharecroppers and laborers to an immiserated position in the division of labor. That dastardly system prevailed, particularly in southern states until the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
Some degree of restoration of rights which were lost after the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877 was restored in the 1960s. Black folks now could exercise the right to vote and to exercise the human dignity of access to public places. The Jim Crow era lasted from 1877 to 1965, approximately 78 years. Now the restoration of constitutional rights and the Voting Rights Act are currently imperiled. The Roberts Supreme Court, over-riding Congress, has struck down the extension of the Voting Rights Act. The same Jim Crow- inclined court has dismantled affirmative action and given us Citizens United that has allowed corporate money to undermine the democratic process.
The backward notion of state rights has raised its ugly head with a new vengeance. State legislatures controlled by pea-minded Republicans have used their power not to create jobs, to rebuild the infra-structure or to reduce poverty but to pass legislation on abortion to restrict a woman’s right to choose that was settled in 1973 in the Supreme Court decision, Roe vs Wade.
The same state legislatures have sought to undermine the Affordable Care Act and are oblivious to the benefits of a healthcare system that would include the working poor and the millions of uninsured. In the same vein, the new Jim Crow political mentality is designing new ways of excluding minority voters from participating in the democratic process. These measures were adopted by some states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia but the United States Attorney General was able to thwart the undemocratic practices. In the absence of certain provisions in the Voting Rights Act, state legislatures are already seizing the opportunity to restrict the people’s right to vote.
This bewildering state of dysfunctionalism was vividly manifested in Boehner’s House of Representatives when the Republicans had to appease the Tea Party elements by passing the farm bill bereft of the nutritional programs that feed the working poor and children who benefit from school lunches. The Tea Party elements in the Republican Party want to gut the food stamp program in an age when inequality is at its zenith in comparison to the decades 1930-1970 that Paul Krugman calls The Great Conveyance.
As we write, the Trayvon Martin jurors have exonerated George Zimmerman. That case, which resulted in the death of seventeen year old black male, has split black and white America. The atavistic nature of race in America did not evaporate with the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States of America. Like the Civil War of the 1860s, like the post-Reconstruction period in America, white racism is ingenuous in reinventing itself. It is a persistent theme that recurs at intervals in US history like the chorus of a song.
The same racial dialectics raised its head in the battle for immigration reform. An onerous bill has been passed by the Senate but the Republicans, inside and outside of the House, are adamant about giving the eleven million undocumented workers a pathway to citizenship. Nonetheless, the America of the nineteenth century is not the same America of the early twentieth century or the late twentieth century. The coalition that elected Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012 is the America of the future. The Phyllis Schlaflys represent a dying America. The Republican Party that has cultivated and benefited from white privilege from 1968 is like a dinosaur that is on its way to becoming extinct.
As the African American poet Langston Hughes exhorted “Let America be America”. An America, based on the new demographics, will extricate itself from the lingering racism and establish a genuine multi-racial democracy. That will not be accomplished overnight but it is inevitable. In the meantime, in the words of the poet, Robert Frost, “We have miles and miles to go before we sleep”. And there are epic struggles ahead.
A Harbinger of the New America?
What are they Dreaming?
By: Basil Wilson
August 9, 2013
Queens, New York
Originally published by the Carib News, 7/17/13