Edith Bunker, where are you now that we need you?
After watching, listening to and reading about the current fiasco surrounding the residency ordinances, one is quickly reminded that racism remains an abiding feature of life in Pine Bluff, the South and our nation. Try, as we might, it never seems to go away.
The recent criticism of Alderwoman Thelma Walker by her own son provides evidence of the “all in the family” dimensions of our city’s problems. Of course, our bigger family feud derives from the internecine and race-based squabbles that we, meaning our larger civic family here in Pine Bluff, seem to constantly engage in. For some reason, our body politic just can’t seem to shake the racism “bug,” and it threatens to destroy much of what we all hope for in terms of the future of our city.
While it is obvious to many that racial concerns underlie the purportedly “objective” criticisms of Mayor Debe Hollingsworth by council members George Stepps, Glen Brown and Walker, it is also clear that the racism bug is an equal opportunity germ. Many of the criticisms aimed at these three council members by some supporters of the mayor often smack of not-so-thinly-veiled racial caricatures, not unlike those hurled during the past. The choice of rhetoric used in any debate often matters as much as the debate’s substantive truths.
I’m sure that those oldsters among us remember the widely-watched television series of several decades ago “All in the Family,” which featured Archie and Edith Bunker. I am convinced that an antidote for the racism bug that infects Pine Bluff just might be the comic but serious lessons taught in each episode of that series. Archie, the often racist/bigoted/sexist/illiberal and sometimes irreligious, everyday working man, would rant and rave in each episode against almost every conceivable cause or group that rubbed him wrong. Each episode exposed in its own comic way the social/ideological and political splits and schisms that divided American society at that time — and continue to do so today.
Yet, at the end of each ranting and raving session, his wife Edith would bring a sense of reconciliation, tolerance and closure apropos the social divides that were exposed. She was the voice of reason and hope amid divisive verbal attacks on anyone perceived as “the other.”
Archie was depicted in the series as a working class white ethnic from a segregated enclave in a big American city. But, far from being a white ethnic caricature, he was embraced by viewers as an “everyman” with whom Americans of all races and ethnic groups came to identify with. That was largely because Edith, along with his daughter and son-in-law, humanized him, “corrected” his frequent diatribes and made all of us think of their family as really our own.
That humanizing spirit is sorely needed in Pine Bluff. We need a bit of comic, but serious, relief. And while it is obvious to many that race bias underlies the opposition to the current police chief based on his residency, it is equally clear to me that some of the earlier opposition to Brenda Davis-Jones (apart from any consideration of her qualifications) stemmed from her race and the fact that she replaced a white male. Especially in terms of our civic need to move our city forward, we Pine Bluffians are in the same family. Let’s find a cure for the racism bug.
Petty, politically motivated and racially motivated acts by our African-American council members actually do a disservice to their constituents. That is because the “real race problem” in Pine Bluff and the nation at large stems from those past and current structural conditions that make for a city where blacks are disproportionately poor and disadvantaged and whites much less so. Instead of political posturing, that inequality is the problem that they need to address.
Much evidence suggests that Pine Bluff is on the verge of an economic breakthrough that could help start to remedy some of that racial inequality and give us the last laugh in the face of our detractors statewide. But those changes will not happen without the cooperation and wise counsel of our City Council. In the meantime, I would advise that they adhere to a “to the victor belongs the spoils” philosophy; and also work to make sure the “spoils” does not mean a deteriorated opportunity to move forward as a city.