By Matt Homer
Since we live in a world where catchy political memes are believed capable of encapsulating simplistic solutions to complex issues, I thought I would quote a meme by the renowned political scientist, Ted Nugent (tongue firmly in cheek). Ted offers thoughtful questions to his 3.6 million Facebook followers. Consider the following: “Are we the only country dumb enough to start another civil war because we are offended by the first one?”
Catchy, right? I suppose this is in reference to removal of the Civil War monuments, but I don’t know that for sure. Of course, there are plenty more and Ted isn’t the only culprit. Half-truths and whole lies are shared and re-shared by millions who are more concerned with thinking they are right than actually being right.
Here’s my non-meme counter opinion – we are (possibly) the only country dumb enough to start another civil war because we didn’t learn from the first one.
Well, here’s a sample of the modern Facebook and Fox News educated political scientist. Republicans freed the slaves, we are not racists, All Lives Matter, one bad apple, Candace Owens said so … get over it. Law and order … yada, yada, yada.
Is it possible that there is more to the issue? Is it possible that a meme cannot contain the whole of sound political philosophy, that Candy wants your clicks, and that facts trump political fictions?
Is it possible that we have not learned from our history and current generations are paying the price in the form of child development, particularly in the South, and this is directly tied to racism?
Let me put it another way. It’s still an issue and our kids are paying the price.
I heard the mental brakes locking down and the blaring confirmation bias siren wailing in your head: disagreement alert, disagreement alert, disagreement alert!
Hear me out for a few minutes. Breathe. Resist the urge to stop reading and to type automatically, “Trump 2020,” in the comments.
First, social capital matters for child development (Putnam, 296-306). Second, states with the lowest levels of social capital correlate with plantation slavery and systematic racism.
See the connection?
According to an actual political scientist, Robert Putnam, “The more virulent the system of slavery then, the less civic the state today. Additionally, it is not happenstance that the lowest levels of community-based social capital are found where a century of plantation slavery was followed by a century of Jim Crow politics. Inequality and social solidarity are deeply incompatible” (Putnam, 294).
Furthermore, Putnam notes, “Child development is powerfully shaped by social capital,” or to put it another way, “Social capital keeps bad things from happening to good kids” (Putnam, 296).
“Statistically, the correlation between high social capital and positive child development is as close to perfect as social scientists ever find in data analysis of this sort. States such as North Dakota, Vermont, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa have healthy civic adults and healthy well-adjusted kids; other states, primarily those in the South, face immense challenges in both the adult and youth populations” (Putnam, 297).
Of course, we must be cautious about inferring causation from correlation: however, Putnam’s analysis is compelling. We are quick to shrug off the sowing of racial seeds by past generations, while the reaping is borne by generations trying to see through the weeds.
It’s time to take the weeds out by the roots.
If Putnam et al is correct, why is white America so quick to denounce personal racism while refusing to acknowledge its collective stain on society? Is it because we don’t know, don’t care, or just don’t care enough to know?
The proof or probability is in the pudding!
I also understand that this is only part of the issue, racism isn’t confined to the South, and bad things happen across the country; however, this does provide food for thought.
Community is the backbone of social capital in America, but we will never rebuild social capital until we rebuild the racially structured systems that have torn communities apart, i.e. implicit biases, structural racism, and white privilege, but I digress.
Lack of child development (the education, economic well-being, health, family and community of our children) is the price tag. For now, white America continues to pay the price for the sins of our fathers by offering future white, black, and brown children less than their full potential.
Of course, social capital is not the only indicator for child development – but it is a substantial one.
Do we want our children to continue to pay this price, or should we fix the broken structures that have divided, disengaged, and stunted civil society over the past 50 years?
I tell my children, Russ, Rylee, and Reagan, “You can be anything you want to be,” and, “I believe in you,” but will their aspirations be stunted by history lessons unlearned by their father?
My daughter, Rylee, is eleven years old. I bought her the book Little Women for her birthday and took her to the theater to see the new movie version – we both cried. I wrote her a note inside the cover of her book and told her in part, “Rylee, you have the power, strength, and ability to become anything you want to be, go wherever you want to go, and do whatever you want to do.” I want my little girl to know that the unbridled and entitled whims of ignorance should never deter her. I want my country to know the same.
“The people will no longer quote this proverb: The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste.” (Jer. 31:29)
Well, it’s 2020 and, unfortunately, they are still puckered … wait, why do you have purple lips? You didn’t eat the grapes again, did you?
Reference: Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000.
Matt Homer is a former pastor, congressional staffer, political operative who worked on both the 2016 Trump campaign and the 2012 Romney campaign, elected political official in Virginia’s 6th Congressional District, and lobbyist.