Opinion and Commentary

Hidden in Plain Sight

Several weeks ago, a Florida story broke in the Associated Press about an investigative report linking several police officers with the city police department of Fruitland Park to membership in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).  The town is one of the bedroom communities in Orlando’s constellation, about fifty miles northwest of the city, with a population of about 5,000.  The story, written by Mark Schneider, describes the disbelief of the city’s mayor and other locals that such a thing could have occurred in their own community although the town had some history of racial violence against blacks dating back more than a half-century.  The community is now quite different from when it was mostly rural and the orange trees outnumbered the residents, writes Schneider.  Most residents of the community might reasonably assume the town has grown up and out of the old prejudices staining its earlier history, thus the legitimacy of their surprise.  

The town is similar to hundreds of small communities throughout Florida that have been transformed by change,  losing some of their long term memory because of the influx of thousands of well-heeled transplants from elsewhere that know little about the history of the places where they now live.  Thus, according to the article, area residents “reacted not only with shock, but disgust that officers could be involved with the Klan…”  Their reaction was genuine and legitimate but I still wondered why the revelations of the Klan in the bosom of their community were such a surprise.  It has not been all that long ago that the Klan was highly fashionable in Florida and the South; and the cracker mentality that drove its membership is still very much with us. 

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Red and yellow, black and white


The country is approaching the 150th anniversary of the date slavery officially ended in the United States.  According to Wikipedia, the Senate passed the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in April 1864 and the Senate in January 1865.  Once approved by Congress, the required number of states ratified the Amendment, setting the stage for the Secretary of State to bless the Amendment on behalf the nation.  Mississippi didn’t ratify the Amendment until last year,  its tardiness defended as a case of legislative “oversight”—confirming yet again how entirely characteristic it is of Mississippi to be dilatory in matters of racial justice.  

So here we are, a century-and-a-half later.  Equal rights and equity of opportunity are far from a done deal for millions of African-Americans, despite enormous change.  The political obstructionism that impedes racial progress is still with us, now thwarting a meaningful reply to the nativists stalking immigrants, their extremism compounded by a billionaire planter class that would willingly take the nation to ruin to protect its special interests.  We have been here before, with disastrous results.  Still, there is hope: change is marching resolutely on.  The entrenched, cynical, and political absolutists of our time may slow but they cannot stop the change that is coming.  A juggernaut of demographic trends will soon alter the complexion of the country forever.  You might say brown is the new black.  

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