A caution to change is frequently the warning of a slippery slope. The idea—or fear—is that a little change will morph into dangerous change. Therefore it’s better to remain in what’s familiar because though it has its problems it is better than the outcome of change. This idea—or fear—has not been the experience in America’s history of addressing race. Race in America has been more like a rubber band than a slippery slope.
Progress toward racial justice stretches the possibilities of freedom and suddenly contracts to it’s previous shape. A few observations of our history reveal the tendency to contract and resist change. The fight to vote during the Civil Rights movement is an example of how we shrink back from change. That fight was necessary because of the contraction that occurred in the 1880’s when Black men exercised their right to vote after the Civil War. The result of their voting appointed many Black men to political office, including Congress. Many people saw this as a dangerous change that would morph into something more intolerable. So violence, oppression, and strategy were used to diminish any progress toward full rights for the Black community. The fear that paralyzed the White community was aggressively used to stymy the Black community. Black people were not forced back to slavery but systems like sharecropping and injustices such as vagrancy laws, established a new form of bondage. The rubber band had snapped back.
History will likely reveal that the pinnacle of progress of racial justice in our time was the brutal murder of George Floyd. It was a moment where the brutality of racial injustice was visible for everyone to see. People who were previously hardened toward issues of race were willing to engage conversations, read books, watch documentaries, march on city streets, and listen to voices of the Black community. True to our history, it was only a matter of weeks before the fear of the slippery slope began to soften the conviction to press toward a more just world. What would we become if we gave too much focus on race? George Floyd shouldn’t have been killed but was he an innocent man? Sure there are some racist people but not systemic racism. If we say Black Lives Matter we are giving too much power to BLM and we will eventually become a communist country.
The slippery slope sounds rational until you’re one of the people at the bottom of the slope. When you’re there you realize what comes down isn’t change but crap. I try to imagine what Black people who were enslaved felt when change was replaced with anger. How did Frederick Douglass bear the disappointment of Jim Crow laws being implemented at the end of his life after tasting the refreshing nectar of change in 1865? How did Ella Baker and James Baldwin hold onto a sense of purpose in the 1970’s after prominent leaders were killed and national strategies were put in place to shrink the progress of the 1960’s?
I wonder if the ride on the slippery slope is as painful as the backlash of the rubber band? I know that the rubber band’s snap is swift and vicious. I feel it now as it leaves a sting on my soul and bitterness on my tongue. It’s a bitterness that refrains the lips from opening with words of hope and ridicules the heart for ever believing change was possible.
If the slippery slope actually exists in this country I sure would like to try it for once. It can’t be as painful as the rubber band.