Growing up, my family of five shared one television in the living room of our small apartment on the eastside of Detroit. We were poor — secondhand clothing, food stamps, blocks of government cheese in the fridge — but on the days the power wasn’t turned off, television helped us forget our circumstances. It was the keeper of dreams, an electronic catalog of treasures we hoped to obtain someday.
Our family watched “The Dukes of Hazzard” every Friday night. For my mother — who is from rural Mississippi, not too far from where Emmett Till’s body was found — and my stepfather, who is from a South Carolina town of less than 4,000, the show reminded them of the South they had fled. For us kids, it was about slapstick comedy and the General Lee car.
We’d go outside, pretending to run moonshine even though none of us knew what that was at the time. We made bow and arrows using wire hangers we found in the alley near discarded needles and broken glass. And we pretended to run from police, like the Duke boys, too young to understand Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane may not shoot Bo or Luke, but would have no problem shooting us.
Black kids in America don’t get to be “good ol’ boys, never meaning no harm” as in the show’s theme song.
Black kids in America are often not seen as harmless boys or girls. In 2018, a National Association of Social Workers’ report revealed, “Black youth are approximately 14% of the total youth population, but 47.3% of the youth who are transferred to adult court.” The Government Accountability Office found that Black K-12 students are also more likely to be suspended or referred to law enforcement than their white counterparts.
These findings are part of the larger racial disparity that just played out in our nation’s capital for the world to see.
Currently there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on in our country after the domestic terrorist attack at the Capitol, with much of it directed at President Donald Trump. The reality, however, is that the more distasteful aspects of Trumpism existed long before his presidency.
The 45th president didn’t create the water threatening to sink our democracy, but he punched holes in what was already a leaky, papier-mâché dam.
Long-lasting dams, the kind a country founded on white supremacy needs in order to create a more equitable society, require time, strong material and commitment.
That’s the dam the Reconstruction Era, the 14 years following the Civil War, was supposed to build. President Abraham Lincoln promised 40 acres and a mule. Instead, his successors gave us paper and glue and we’ve been trying to patch up the holes ever since.
Critics call reparations a handout. History dictates reparations are overdue payment that has been accruing late fees for 135 years.
Every now and then a piece of legislation comes along, like the Civil Rights Act of 1965, to patch up one of the holes. Then the Republicans rebuke the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act and punch another hole. Birtherism attacks on President Barack Obama were like a stick of dynamite.
Inevitably, the country finds itself knee-high in water again because we lack the collective fortitude to build a better dam.
And as the Capitol riot showed, if you’re white or rich, you have access to a canoe, as demonstrated by the domestic terrorists who felt so comfortable in their place in society that they were unafraid to post videos of their actions even as the FBI sought information from the public to make arrests.
If you’re white or rich, sometimes you have access to a yacht, which is what former Trump cabinet members are sailing away on right now as if their recent resignations expunge four years of complicity.
And if you’re neither, you may struggle everyday just to keep your head above water. Maybe watch a little television and dream that, you too, can be just a “good ol’ boy, never meaning no harm.”
Perhaps you fantasize that you too can be part of an anarchist movement like in the movie “Fight Club,” Hollywood’s love letter to disenfranchised white men who desire to fight for something greater than themselves — but only if it benefits them. Watch a rerun of “Happy Days” and ignore the fact that those days weren’t happy for everyone during the mid-1950s and ’60s.
You see, this “two Americas” thing — the notion that white and or rich people are treated more favorably culturally and legislatively than minorities and poor people — isn’t a recent metaphor designed to incite. Citizenship plurality is what we were built on, it’s rooted in our education and criminal justice systems and cleverly woven into popular culture and sports.
The attack on the Capitol was as much about protecting that worldview as it was supporting the president who exploits it — lest you earnestly believe a Black man can stand on the national stage with zero political experience, two divorces, six bankruptcies and countless women accusing him of sexual assault and still be handed the keys to the country.
The truth is we’ll get past this. We always do. But how we look on the other side isn’t up to the administration of President-elect Joe Biden. It’s up to us.
Are we finally ready to do the work necessary to prevent further flooding? Or will we go back to pretending the papier-mâché dam is good enough only to recoil in horror, yet again, when the rains come and the water rises once more.
LZ Granderson is the host of “Sedano & LZ” on ESPN Radio and an ABC News political contributor. He writes on race, culture and LGBT issues and is a former fellow at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and the Hechinger Institute at Columbia University.
Capitol attack another reminder of ‘two Americas’ that exist: OPINION The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ ABC News.