Striving for a better E Pluribus Unum
By O. Ricardo Pimentel | San Antonio Express-News | Published: July 4, 2014
Some noteworthy anniversaries come this year — World War I's 100th, the 50th of the Civil Rights Act and Brown v. Board of Education's 60th.
Of course, a bright line connects the Supreme Court's decision in Brown, outlawing separate but equal education, and the Civil Rights Act, which said freedom from discrimination is a right. And there will be a bright line connecting those with the Voting Rights Act, whose anniversary we'll commemorate next year.
Together they represent a nation's progress and freedoms for which people bled.
But there is also a connection to be made between all of those events and the bleeding that was World War I. And this connection exists quite aside from the war's distinction of causing a military draft that conscripted about 370,000 African-Americans who returned to the same Jim Crow they left.
We fought for democracy. Over there. Here we kept on shrugging for a while.
The war in Europe coincided with the Great Migration north that saw African-Americans leave the onerous South, including Texas, to more opportunities — and less, and different — Jim Crow. The war created opportunities in northern factories. African-Americans helped fill the gap.
But that's not the connection I'm thinking of either. That war serves as a reminder that the American experiment of E Pluribus Unum — one from many — survives.
World War I remade the world's map. In Europe, of course. But also in the Middle East, where the war caused the demise of the Ottoman Empire and created boundaries from which nations-in-name-only would come to be.
Other countries have managed to make one out of many but none as successfully as the United States.
Syria and Iraq demonstrate the one from many that can be achieved only at gunpoint, tensions and divisions — ethnic, tribal and religious — seething until the inartful stitching comes undone. We should resist taking our guns over there for the purpose of re-stitching.
During these anniversaries, we dutifully note the progress. But, as self awareness is a habit hard to break, we also observe that this remains a work in progress.
Right. Jim Crow is gone as official writ but wide gaps persist. Sometimes it seems as if Jim Crow just got himself a change of clothes, a hairdo and a high-tech playbook.
But Mr. Crow gets smacked back.
That's what happens in a true E-Pluribus-Unum nation. Eventually. Inevitably. With help.
So, Texas can redistrict to deny fair representation, craft voter ID to block “certain” people from voting, build roadblocks to voter registration drives, skimp on funding poor school districts that disproportionately serve students of color, herald a Texas economy “that works” except for the many it leaves behind, decry opportunity as reverse discrimination, have a system of “justice” that skews to not enough of it for the poor, reject expanding health insurance to the most needy, who are also significantly poor and minority. And I get to have a job that lets me write that.
People get to challenge the state on all those things, using institutions that once championed denying the right for folks to even use the same urinals.
Our disagreements can be quite caustic. It seems as if the shrillness increases as demography makes even more constructive evolution inevitable. And, of course, there is that school of thought that says noting our divisions and differences causes division and difference. Bunk.
And still, there is no call to arms, except by gun-loving yahoos who see tyranny where most of us see useful, necessary government. A nation's hues, colors and even language change and most of us still think of ourselves as Americans. We always will.
The many still believe ourselves to be one, even as many of us aspire to be a better one. Don't know about you, but that's what I celebrate every July 4.