Written by David Greenwald Sunday, 20 January 2013 07:38
As I read through some of the obituaries, I realized how much the show, which depicted a wealthy old money industrialist in Manhattan who adopted two poor black children from Harlem, influenced my thinking at a relatively young age.
What was a storyline in the late 1970s is commonplace in America now - mixed-race families. What was controversial at the time seems quaint, simplistic and perhaps even patronizing now.
As my regular readers know, race is one of my favorite topics of discussion because I believe it remains deeply divisive. Look no further than the racial splits in voting this year and you get that sense.
The area of race is still an area where consistent progress is difficult to find at times, even on the eve of the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, who broke the color lines in 2008 when he was elected President.
It is perhaps fitting that he is inaugurated on Martin Luther King Day. It was just two years ago that I attended my first MLK Day since 2006. I was stunned that the event, which had been noted for its diversity by Davis standards, was nearly all-white.
On the positive side, it reflects the fact that MLK, once among the most polarizing figures in this nation, had gained widespread acceptance. However, on the negative side, it reflected the fact that the minority population had become disengaged from the local scene.
It was easy to trace the decline in minority participation to the disbanding of the Davis Human Relations Commission (HRC) in 2006. Without revisiting the issues of that year, I will remark that the Davis City Council probably had no idea how much damage they had done in making that decision.
They probably believed they were putting to rest a difficult problem. The reality is that it did nothing to solve the problem, it simply disengaged a growing segment of the population from dealing with the problem at the city level.
At the same time, it seemed that the same old ritual of MLK day became stale. We were re-telling the story of MLK, but that story seemed to end in 1968. There have been 45 years of history since MLK, that can tell of his legacy.
So last year, we tried to change things up. We brought in a speaker from the Southern Poverty Law Center to speak about more contemporary issues of race, while we brought in a panel discussion about race in Davis.
It was a great program and the people who attended were appreciative, but we did not fix the primary problem of reengaging the minority community.
An interesting turning point came last June when a noose was found hanging from the high school stadium uprights. Most of the time, these sorts of events trigger outrage that is essentially fleeting. Fleeting in the sense that people get engaged, they are angry, and then they calm down and move on.
Last June there was big meeting at the Davis High Library, and people discussed the issue. But there was also a well-attended follow-up at the Davis Human Relations Commission.
From that meeting grew the idea that became Breaking the Silence of Racism. The idea of that event was to allow the people to speak and the leaders to listen. So we got representatives from the city, police department, UC Davis, DJUSD, the faith community and the DA's office to sit on a panel, and their job was to listen and to respond to questions.
When you plan events like this, you hope for the best, but I always have a nagging fear that no one will show up. Well, in the case of Breaking the Silence, so many people showed up and wanted to speak that we actually had to extend the event by an hour because we did not want to turn people away.
What I had expected to see at that event was a bunch of young people from UC Davis, and perhaps from DJUSD, talk about their experiences. Instead, it was a wide variety of people from all ages and walks of life, sharing vastly different experiences than perhaps we could have anticipated.
One of the biggest themes was that people of color do not feel comfortable in this community - whether it is in the schools or in businesses. Some end up leaving, other disengage.
As 2013 moves on, we will be working on follow-ups to this event. The key is always to follow up because history is rife with well-intended movements that lack follow-up.
Tomorrow marks the 19th City of Davis-sponsored MLK Day. It will be at 10:30 at the Varsity Theater in Downtown Davis.
The keynote address will be presented by Bay Area resident Ms. Sujatha Baliga. Sujatha is a Senior Program Specialist at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, where she assists communities in implementing restorative justice alternatives to juvenile detention and zero-tolerance school discipline policies.
According to the city's press release, "A frequent guest lecturer at academic institutions and conferences, she has also testified before legislative bodies on proposed legislation impacting criminal and civil penalties for sexual assault and abuse."
You may have caught a New York Times story from early this year, "Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?" The story told the story of Conor McBride, who was was convicted of shooting his girlfriend of three years when they were both 19.
The restorative process, led by our speaker, Ms. Baliga, convened a plea conference in which all of the main stakeholders met to discuss the sentence to be faced by the murderer.
As described in one account, "On June 22, 2011, Baliga convened, among others, the assistant state attorney in charge of prosecuting the crime, the defense attorney, and the four parents left bereaved by the murder - the mother and father of the victim, 19-year-old Ann Grosmaire, and the mother and father of the young man, 20-year-old Conor McBride, who shot Ann at the end of days of highly emotional bickering.
"The meeting arranged by Baliga eventually resulted in something much different than the usual death penalty or life sentence in such cases in Florida. It resulted in a 20-year sentence, plus 10 years of probation, for Conor, who participated in the face-to-face meeting. The session proved to be a step towards healing and a sense of peace for the family members."
The story not only made the New York Times, but Ms. Baliga was featured on the Today Show.
Interestingly enough, we invited Ms. Baliga before any of these events were known. Her expertise is juvenile justice and finding alternative ways to deal with youthful offenders, other than simply locking them up.
According to the city's press release, "Sujatha earned her A.B. from Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges and her J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. An emerging national voice in restorative justice, she was honored as Northeastern University Law School's Daynard Fellow, and has been a guest on NPR's Talk of the Nation. Sujatha's personal and research interests include victims' voices in restorative practices, the forgiveness of seemingly unforgivable acts, and Tibetan notions of justice."
We will also feature another panel discussion. Professor Tilahun Yilma, a Virologist at UC Davis who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a member of the Davis HRC, will lead a discussion on the issue of mass incarceration.
The discussion will cover, in part, "The New Jim Crow," which is based on the book by Michelle Alexander, dealing with the mass levels of incarceration in the US - which has 25% of the world's prison population despite only having 5% of the world's total population.
Ms. Alexander particularly views the nation's drug laws as a new form of societal suppression, which has led the majority of young black men in large American cities to be "warehoused in prisons."
Ms. Alexander wrote, "The clock has been turned back on racial progress in America, though scarcely anyone seems to notice. All eyes are fixed on people like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey who have defied the odds and achieved great power, wealth and fame."
The consequences are large numbers of African-Americans who are unable to gain employment and are disenfranchised. She sees current activities replacing the Jim Crow laws, which in turn had replaced slavery.
The panel will include Sasha Abramsky, Cruz Reynoso, Joe Schwartz and Bernita Toney.
This past Tuesday, which marked the anniversary of Martin Luther King's actual birth, the Davis Enterprise had an outstanding article on Davis' MLK Day.
"Each year we try to do something a little bit different," Deputy City Manager Kelly Stachowicz told the Enterprise. "We have some of the elements that we have kept the same over the years - stuff that people seem to enjoy and are meaningful."
"Simply put, it's a way for people to deal with disagreements," Ms. Stachowicz said. "She [Ms. Baliga] focuses a lot on that, and really wants to tie in how restorative justice is letting us move toward Martin Luther King's dream."
The Enterprise writes, "One of the organizers of the show, Diane Evans, said while King's legacy is an ever-present theme, it is also intended to continue the conversation started at last month's Breaking the Silence of Racism community workshop."
"The message is collaboration, which is what we need for our country to change," Ms. Evans said. "And the goal is really to activate the spirit of Martin Luther King. Peoples' voices need to be heard."
The Enterprise continues: "Last year was the first time a panel was held at the annual celebration, Stachowicz said, and it is making a return due to its positive reception."
"People really were responsive to it," she said. "We had a group ... talking about issues of discrimination and things that they've faced. I think it was eye-opening for some and an affirmation for others."
"We hope that the panel will once more cause people to think: 'OK, here's where we are; where do we go from here?' "
That is my hope, anyway.
---David M. Greenwald reporting
DG: "What was a storyline in the late 1970s is commonplace in America now - mixed-race families. What was controversial (about Diff'rent Strokes) at the time seems quaint, simplistic and perhaps even patronizing now."
Your larger point is, undeniably, right. That for a long time intra-familial race-mixing was controversial, especially if the races involved were black and white*. However, I don't recall that was controversial in the case of the TV show Diff'rent Strokes.**
It's not like any of the characters were portrayed as being sexually intimate with people of a different race. The only "romantic" relationship I remember either of the boys having was when the girl played by Janet Jackson dated Willis (Todd Bridges).
By contrast, back in the mid-1960s, when the movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner featured a romance between a white actress (Katharine Houghton) and a black actor (Sidney Poitier), I believe there was some controversy.
Yet less than a decade later, when The Jeffersons featured a white-black married couple (Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker*** as Tom and Helen Willis) I don't believe there was any public reaction at all. However, the creator of The Jeffersons, Norman Lear, did use that relationship to get into that issue.
*Since nearly half of all white-American families claim they have Native American blood, and I think black-Americans make similar claims, red-white or red-black mixing does not seem to be so controversial historically.
**One of the writers on Diff'rent Strokes, Marty Cohan, was married to a cousin of my mother. Marty and my mom grew up in the same part of San Francisco, though he was about 8 years younger. After Diff'rent Strokes, Cohan created a bunch of other sappy TV sitcoms.
***Roxie Roker in real life also had a white husband, the film producer Sy Kravitz. They are the parents of Lenny Kravitz, the (overrated) musician. Roxie Roker is also a relative of the (formerly fat) TV weatherman, Al Roker.
"As my regular readers know, race is one of my favorite topics of discussion because I believe it remains deeply divisive. Look no further than the racial splits in voting this year and you get that sense."
According to the results the racism was coming mostly from minorities.
Voted for Obama:
Voted for Romney:
"It was easy to trace the decline in minority participation to the disbanding of the Davis Human Relations Commission (HRC) in 2006. Without revisiting the issues of that year, I will remark that the Davis City Council probably had no idea how much damage they had done in making that decision."
In my opinion not as much damage as was done by the HRC with their stirring up of racial tensions.
According to the results the racism was coming mostly from minorities.
Voted for Obama:
Voted for Romney:
As a white voter for Obama, I fail to understand your point here. Are you interpreting the vote of a Hispanic or Asian voter who voted for Obama as a vote for him because they inherently prefer blacks over whites ? Do you believe that whites who voted for Romney voted for him because they inherently prefer whites over blacks ?
Or do you believe that the majority of voters voted as they did because on the balance, they believed that their candidate was closer in alignment with their view of whatever they considered to be their most important issues ? I happen to favor the latter position, but am truly curious about your belief.
I think Rusty49's point is that our three largest minority groups voted for the minority President. The argument has been made that these groups tend to vote Democrat. True, but not in these numbers. For example, Bill Clinton's share of the Hispanic and Asian vote was significantly lower. So was the black vote: 83% and 84%. However, Republicans have generally barely cracked the double-digit black voter support, so the difference isn't great.
It is clear there is some racism at play here. Even white voters afflicted with a white guilt syndrome voted along race lines.
For me, "racism" is evident when people behave or make decisions reflecting racial difference but lacking any rational measure. For example, when someone claims that the cops are racist because they question people of color more often, but crime statistics prove that people of color are more often involved in criminal activity, the claimer's claim should be considered racist.
I think if MLK was alive today, based on the dream he delivered, I think he should be highly impressed with race progress in this country as compared with race progress in any county throughout the history of humans.
He would be perplexed as to why more were not celebrating this achievement, and he would recognize those still stuck in a pre-civil rights mindset unable to leverage their own freedom to achieve a happy and prosperous life lacking much in the way of racial constraints.
The argument has been made that these groups tend to vote Democrat. True, but not in these numbers.
So is it your contention that the 59% of whites who voted for Romney did so because he is white ? That would be the equivalent argument. I see no evidence that this is true. Why would you assume it is true on the other side ?
He would be perplexed as to why more were not celebrating this achievement
I think he might see cause for celebration, and be perplexed as to why we have not continued to progress largely because of, I believe, denial by those who are unwilling to listen to those whose experiences are very different from their own.
Jeff, now that the 49ers are going to the Super Bowl baby I have a few minutes to post where I was going with this:
So what is it? David says "I believe it remains deeply divisive. Look no further than the racial splits in voting this year and you get that sense."
So if we go with that conclusion then as I stated the minorities voted in much higher percentages for Obama than whites voted for Romney so by that standard that makes minorities more racist.
If we go with voters didn't vote for race but voted because they liked one candidate over the other than that makes David wrong.
people of color do not feel comfortable in this community
I don't mean to diminish the point that David is making, but I think there are a lot of people that don't feel comfortable in this community. Maybe people of color get a different sort of negative vibe, but Davis has always been talked about by the people living in the surrounding cities and towns as being filled with a larger share of snooty people with an air of superiority about them.
I don't see it as much having lived her for over 30 years. But I still hear it from others.
Frankly, Davis feels like a great place to live if you are over 40 with a family, a college degree and an upper middleclass income. You can make less money, or even little money, and still feel like you fit in as long as you have an advanced degree(s) and are active with social causes. You can also fit in scraping the bottom of the social and economic barrel in some cases because of the help from those active with social causes.
How much of this “not fitting in” is socio-economic and/or education level, and not racial?
So is it your contention that the 59% of whites who voted for Romney did so because he is white ?
medwoman, I'm sure there were some people that voted for Romney because the alternative was a black man. However, the wide variance in the statistics don't support your counter assertion. Obama's 39% white vote in the 2012 election matched the percentage that voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. It also exceeded the white vote that went for many other white Democrat candidates like Mondale and Carter.
If we go back to the 1976 election, 84% of Democrat voters were white and 16% were non-white, while 96% of Republican voters were white and 4% were non-white.
Fast forward to 2012, 56% of Democrat voters were white, and 44% where non-white; while 89% Republican voters were white and 11% of them were non-white.
The Republican trends for white and non-white voters actually materially matches the slope of general demographic changes. For example, in 1976 about 85% of the US population was white. In 2012 it was about 71.5%.
The difference is that Democrats have captured much, much more of the non-white vote. Minorities have an easier time buying what the Democrats are selling... or more accurately, what the Democrats are giving away.
Minority populations tend to be more homogeneous than majority populations and thus more cohesive in their voting patterns
I agree, and would argue that this behavior is unwanted in the US and is unhealthy to our democratic process in such large scale.
And if you think about it from a social, economic and political perspective, that is THE big problem. I don't think you can point to any single ethnic group within the history of the US that could be singled out as having a material impact on voting demographics. Previously people migrated here because they were motivated by a country that emphasized the rights of the individual. For almost two centuries it was really the ONLY place where everyday people had a shot at becoming whatever they wanted to be. Group think and tribalism wasn't a national thing… and even as a local or regional thing, it was relatively infrequent.
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
We have always had a mix of poor, uneducated immigrants, but it has been balanced with a large slice of people having ambition and drive to make something of themselves. For the rest, it took a generation or two of their kids to get the American economic and social participation bug. But as difficult as it is today, poor and uneducated Latinos have for decades only had to hike or ride a few miles to sneak in. And they have in droves. Because of the explosion of this specific demographic group, immigrants have over-saturated our ability to assimilate people into the working American social-political-economic system and thinking. When we add a crappy economy, the lack of sufficient jobs and growth of entitlements to this demographic shift, we have created an America-The-Great-killing toxic stew.
Another way to look at this. Americans have tended to be quite self-confident. Foreigners have noted that we have extra-large egos. However, there has always been a percentage of the insecure amongst us striving to get to a place where they too felt secure and included. The barriers for achieving this security have always been significant, but achievable. Compared to many other countries where the barriers were/are such where there is no path to greatness for most people unless they were born lucky, then America was truly that shining city on the hill.
What has happened now… the insecure have gained political power and are now refusing to strive to earn a place in that shining city. Instead, they are demanding a short-cut. They are demanding that government take care of them while also making them feel more secure and included. They want to punish those ahead of them in this development of the American good life… knock the successful back several steps so the less successful feel better by comparison.
The meek have inherited the earth so to speak. And, it will not end well for the US just has it has not ended well for every other country where the populists take control. Argentina here we come… only on a much, much larger scale.
It's more than a fair point. A person whose opinion I respect said on December 1 that Davis doesn't have a race problem, it has an elitism problem that presents itself as a race problem.
That being the case, don't you think that you might be barking up the wrong try trying to shake that Davis racism squirrel?