On this most historic of days:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
– Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, June 26, 2015
Like many of you, I have been preoccupied with the recent murders in Charleston. At first, I thought about writing something that historicized modern racism through a reflection on the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and white resistance to the Civil Rights movement. But instead of commenting specifically as a historian, I would rather comment generally as a human being. If you want to get up to speed on the history – here’s a comprehensive syllabus that has been going around on the usual social media sites. Read these books. Repost the link. You need to.
The time has long past for all Americans to wake the fuck up and understand that racially motivated violence is a deep-seated part of our national culture. And it does not seem to be going anywhere. Some have noted over the last few days, including Jon Stewart and others, that many Americans pretend racism has almost entirely faded into the past, that we have overcome a troubling part of our history and have healed our racial wounds. As such, we interpret these events as isolated tragedies perpetrated by unstable individuals acting alone.
This self-congratulatory and self-inflicted ignorance must end. Now. Because you and I both know that it will not be long before we’re reading yet another story about yet another racially motivated murder.
I speak especially to silent white progressives. Stop pretending. Yes, your kids have black friends. Yes, you elected a black president. Good for you. But our nation’s murderous racist reality has not changed. And understand that nothing is ever going to happen to stop this despicable savagery until we can all have an open, honest, and very public conversation about race. Such a discussion is going to be unsettling. It is going to be uncomfortable. But it must take place. Your complacency is killing people.
I have had enough. And I suspect you have as well. So do something.