Challenge to 2016 Voters: Ending Black Separation among Us

Among all the enlarging crises — from insatiably murderous ISIS to the fading individual liberties of more Americans in the Bill of Rights, how many 2016 presidential candidates will focus also on the fact that “Blacks are twice as likely to live in poverty … ” and “Black unemployment is nearly double that of whites”? (“Blacks ‘stall’ in race divide,” New York Daily News, March 26, 2015)

These are quotations from the long-respected civil rights organization, the National Urban League, as further quoted in the Huffington Post’s story “Black America is Just 72 Percent Equal to Whites in Some Areas” (Huffington Post, March 25, 2015).

One example of a subhead in that story: “Black Students’ Academic Proficiency Hovers Well Below White Peers:”

Also the continually racially segregated school systems across the land. For instance, the neighborhood where I live and work in New York City is effectively segregated by race. This is not done by law, but by where whites choose to live.

So, while growing up, young blacks and whites don’t get to know one another.

I don’t recall hearing racial public school segregation being mentioned by presidential or congressional candidates. Nor is it evident in most predominant media in their various forms.

My own growing up experience was different because of my passion for jazz, which began when I was about 12 years old. Five years later, I had a jazz program on Boston radio station WMEX, where I interviewed and got to know black jazz musicians, some of whom became my friends.

One of them was Charles Mingus, who later became a master bassist and leader. I first knew him as a sideman with a visiting combo to Boston, and we became friends.

It was when reading his 1971 memoir, Beneath the Underdog, that I viscerally felt the separation I didn’t experience between blacks and whites:

“Nat Hentoff,” he wrote about our first meeting, “was the first white I could talk with.”

So what will the next president do, if anything, if he or she has to suggest nominees for Supreme Court vacancies who could significantly reduce the separation between American blacks and whites? This can also be a consideration in voting for members of Congress, state judges and legislators, mayors, et al.

Otherwise, for how many generations will this racial separation continue?

What also needs pervasive changing are the long prison sentences of huge numbers of Americans, a high percentage of whom are blacks and other minorities.

Many of these lives are then permanently blocked from having meaningful access to the benefits of citizenship.

As I have discovered studying state prison populations, many blacks with such blocked futures were first school dropouts imprisoned for non-violent crimes. In schools where students were measured and graded collectively by standardized tests, these black dropouts felt like they had no reason for being there because they had been taught they were dumbly incapable of such learning. Or so they thought.

While I continue to be convinced that Obama should be impeached for unilaterally and ceaselessly violating our privacy and other Constitutional rights, I must credit him in his current actual attempts to put an end to mass imprisonments for nonviolent crimes.

What can also begin to be meaningfully and permanently likely to erase black inequality is the increased visible and authentic coming together of these Americans — blacks and also whites — who are searching for effective ways to remove Jim Crow as a malignant presence in this nation.

Seeing this insistent coalition in action in politics, education and other core functions of American life could eventually bring us back to a self-governing republic by all of We The People.

Finally, I bring Duke Ellington into the conversation. He’s been an influence on me, not only about jazz, since my teens, when he knew I was starting to write on jazz musicians.

“Don’t categorize musicians,” he told me. “Like — ‘old timey Dixieland’ or ‘cutting-edge modern.’ Get to know where the musician came from, how he grew up, his family, what got him into jazz. That’s where his music comes from.”

My variation on that is a possible society where some of its members wouldn’t automatically judge a person by politics, race, gender, et al, but would get to know more of the particular person’s background and main interests.

And Charlie Parker, the icon of modern jazz, warned me back then: “Don’t go by first impressions, what you first see and hear. Get to know more than that.”

We were talking about Bartok, whose music I was excited by.

“First time I heard Bartok,” said Bird (as he was called), “he wasn’t anything to me. Later, I heard a concerto by him, and I began to write a jazz concerto. I must have been into something else when I first heard him.”

And when I was first teaching journalism at New York University Graduate School, I’d start by saying, “Don’t go into a story with a pre-set. Like you feel you know who’s right and who’s wrong by their race or political party. Get the facts.”

All of us are human beings entitled to the Constitution’s protections. If not, what makes America different from all other nations?

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.