The point of figuring out what happens after death is that you finally learn how to live. You start thinking on an eternal scale! Far from losing interest in the things of this world, you care so much more about all of humanity; and when you are thinking spiritually, you can see the world’s problems in a clearer light.
So it is that I am now proposing a fresh approach to solving our racial problems. It is clear that nothing we have tried has worked! Although there are more black people now who have entered the American mainstream, the vast majority of slavery’s descendants still lead debased and hopeless lives. Fully half of young black American children live in poverty. Two-thirds of those children are fatherless! America’s schools are more segregated than ever before, so nearly all black children receive poor educations. And incredibly, although they are just thirteen percent of our population, black people make up half of America’s murder victims. Nearly all their murderers are black as well. An amazing forty percent of black men will spend time in prison during their lifetimes!
I hate to say this, but many Americans have come to take it as a given that there is something about having darker skin that makes people less able to cope. So we give them welfare and affirmative action, we allow the black areas of our cities to deteriorate, we turn a blind eye to young black delinquents, and we call people racist who have the nerve to point out that any of this is disturbing. But it is disturbing. And it’s time that we did something about it that really works!
Kelley Glover and I have been friends for a decade without much talking about race. We’d just go out to lunch for a couple of hours to talk and laugh and enjoy one another. It was only when one day I was thinking about this and I brought the topic up that she began to teach me what it is like to be black in America today. And I shared with her what I thought was wrong.
The result is The Fun of Living Together – “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” (MLK, Jr.). We wrote it as a Fun book and in my voice because that was what my publisher wanted, but the whole book is our joint effort. This is the first book I’ve ever written with a living person. And despite the seriousness of its topic and the intensity of our emotions surrounding it, the fact that Kelley and I can be silly together under any circumstance has helped a lot!
So, why are we still having racial problems a hundred and fifty years after the Civil War? There is only one explanation left at this point. We botched emancipation.
We could have freed the slaves in an orderly process that included educating them to live as free Americans and encouraging their fellow citizens to accept them. But instead, we destroyed a large part of this nation in a devastating Civil War, after which we abandoned the newly-freed slaves to survive surrounded by outraged folks who had just lost everything. What did we think was going to happen? Nearly all of America’s freed slaves and their descendants lived debased and hopeless lives in the Jim Crow South for the next hundred years.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the greatest American of the twentieth century. The more perspective we gain, the more certain that becomes. He brought an end to the Jim Crow South using only his pen and his loving example, and now his life and his words give a shape to the better America that is yet to come.
Our popular conception is that slavery was bad because it was violent and the slaves worked for free. But it turns out that what lingers of slavery over many generations is its effects on the mind. The slaves’ sense of being inferior, of being hopeless and beaten down and less is something that we have never addressed. So Kelley and I make a case in The Fun of Living Together that most of the descendants of American slavery still live in a kind of slavery-lite. We have thrown everything we can think of at trying to fix a few of the symptoms of their problem, but because we haven’t understood the cause, we have only made things worse.
Kelley and I now propose a solution that can end our racial problems in one generation and at little cost. Since we have by now tried every other idea and spent more money than our national debt, it is time to go back to emancipation and heal this nation where the rift began.
A friend told me a story yesterday that sums up the place where we are now. She feels shame in knowing that her ancestors owned eight slaves in an obscure town in Alabama and freed them when the Civil War began, after which they moved to Texas. One day a new client told her she had grown up in that same obscure town, so naturally my friend shared her shameful story. Her client burst into tears. She said that her own great-grandparents had been owned by a family that had freed them at the start of the Civil War and then moved to Texas.
They cried together that day. And so do we all cry! There is nothing we can do to change the past, but the time has come for us to fix a problem that should have been addressed when the Civil War ended. Then at last all Americans can come together in the perfect love and brotherhood that Dr. King was able to see lying waiting for us beyond the top of that mountain.
If not us, who? If not now, when?