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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Four words of advice for African-Americans in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal:

Wake the hell up.

The Sunday after Zimmerman went free was a day of protest for many of us. From Biscayne Boulevard in Miami to Leimert Park in Los Angeles, to the Daley Center in Chicago to Times Square in New York City, African-Americans — and others who believe in racial justice — carried out angry, but mostly peaceful, demonstrations.

Good. This is as it should have been.

But if that’s the end, if you just get it out of your system, then move ahead with business as usual, then all you did Sunday was waste your time. You might as well have stayed home.

We are living in a perilous era for African-American freedom. The parallels to other eras have become too stark to ignore.

Every period of African-American advance has always been met by a crushing period of pushback, the crafting of laws and the use of violence with the intent of eroding the new freedoms. Look it up:

The 13th Amendment ended slavery. So the white South created a convict leasing system that was actually harsher.

The 14th Amendment guaranteed citizenship. So the white South rendered that citizenship meaningless with the imposition of Jim Crow laws.

The 15th Amendment gave us the right to vote; it was taken away by the so-called “grandfather clause.” The Supreme Court struck that down, so the white South relied on literacy tests and poll taxes to snatch our ballots all over again.

Our history is a litany: two steps forward, one step back.

The civil rights movement was the greatest step forward since emancipation. So we ought not be surprised to see voting rights eroded again, the Civil Rights Act attacked, the so-called “war on drugs” used for the mass incarceration of black men. Or to see the killing of an unarmed child deliver a message as old as the Constitution itself: Black life is worth less.

We are in another period of pushback. And worse, we don’t even seem to know.