"I guess I'll never understand American audiences. I tell a joke about Sammy Davis being Jewish and the people become hysterical. Yet, I've been Jewish all my life and it never once got me a laugh."
-- George Burns
At the Skirball Center in Los Angeles are two almost life size pictures taken in the early part of the 20th century.
The first picture is of a weary mittel European Jewish mother and her children, dressed in drab shapeless garments typical of their peasant life; the next is of the same mother and children 18 months later, bright and alert, no longer downtrodden, dressed in the latest fashion.
In the words of the Harvard Lampoon they dropped their old customs like a live hand grenade and assimilated into urban American culture.
Note: They were the outsiders trying to fit in, they were the weak emulating the powerful.
Did they succeed?
Define success. Their children were instrumental in redefining American culture.
They were still outsiders -- to a degree. Never 100% accepted into white bread Protestant middle class Middle American culture but certainly much more welcomed than they were in Central Europe.
Certainly much more welcome than the African-Americans brought here as slave labor to make white America rich.
If there was a shred of human decency in our culture, a true taste of justice, there would be at the very least an open acknowledgement of the huge contribution the ancestors of today’s African-Americans gave to this country, this culture.
This country was literally built on their backs, and those who cast hagiographic backward glances at the pioneers and small farmers celebrated in story and song would do well to realize while those people were scratching out subsistence existence, millions of African-Americans were building the foundation of a vast financial empire that would support this country.
Built on cotton and tobacco, that empire fed the northern banks that in turn fueled the industrial revolution above the Mason-Dixon line.
I have often cited Ursula K. LeGuin’s classic short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.
It is a story -- a fictional essay -- about a utopia built on a single injustice and how most of the citizens either ignore that injustice or wistfully acknowledge Such Things Must Be, but a few -- a tiny few -- cannot live in that utopia with that knowledge and leave for where they know not, only knowing it’s not a tainted paradise.
We find more and more people willing to walk away from our tainted utopia, or more properly, to walk away from blind compliance to a flawed past and towards a better, more perfect union.
“Ah! White guilt!" The screechweasels howl.
Having a knowledge of guilt, a sense of shame and responsibility is the first step towards true repentance.
None of this excuses Dolezal’s stupid little lie or her betrayal of trust by those who hired her.
But it does explain the origin of her deception, a rejection of a society that refuses to acknowledge its moral responsibility.
No, strike that: A rejection of a segment of a society that refuses to acknowledge its moral responsibility.
The old road is rapidly aging.