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Column: Overcoming inequality, the knee on the neck of Black America

Bill Curtis [Courtesy]

BY BILL CURTIS

VIRGINIA BEACH — Thomas Paine, a Virginian and an American revolutionary, penned a pamphlet titled “The Crisis” on Dec. 23, 1776, that captured the imagination of people in the Colonies who were on the verge of defeat by the British army. He opened his writing: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” 

Most Americans who have taken high school history are familiar with those words. However, the next sentence is perhaps more poignant than that famous opening phrase: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” 

Paine was trying to encourage the colonists, in a dark hour, that the goal was worth fighting for. He wanted them to hold on and fight the good fight because any form of subjugation was unacceptable. The American colonists determined that equality was synonymous with independence, and, when there is distinction between the two words, subjugation and tyranny certainly follow. 

The colonists loved Britain, and they believed in the monarchy, British culture and its customs. They were citizens of the greatest country in the world, and that was a source of pride for them. However, they discovered, over time, that they were not equal in how they were treated by Britain. They were a possession, established to serve and support the empire. They did not have the same right to represent themselves before the government and, once this distinction was institutionalized in how the colonists were governed, it became systemic in its application. After years of suffering this form of subjugation, they found it intolerable and determined that equality was worth fighting for. 

The recent crisis we are experiencing in America is not “recent” at all. Much like Colonial America, the underlying fissures in our society have always been there, but the resulting instability in our foundation has reached a point where it must be addressed or the building will collapse. 

We have reached another “tipping point,” and, this time, a lasting solution is required. America is finally coming to understand what Paine and the American colonists came to understand – that inequality anywhere leads to tyranny everywhere 

As the vice chairperson of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach and as a Black American, I have a dual responsibility. I must support the principles and values identified in the Republican Party creed, which are in alignment with the principles and values identified in our national Constitution. However, I must also support the principles and values of my community of Black Americans. Some people may be astounded to discover that these are also in alignment with our Constitution. 

I find that the alignment is captured in one word, “equality.” However, we must have our eyes opened to see it, and the Black Lives Matter movement has become the “forcing” function of our awareness. We are “woke!” 

There is a knee on the neck of Black America, and the victim is pleading with the oppressor: “I can’t breathe; don’t let me die.” For over 170 years, America has seen progress towards overcoming the brutal vestiges of slavery, but equality remains elusive. 

Ferguson, Mo. Minneapolis. A jogger in Atlanta. A verbal attack against a birdwatcher in New York City. These are all singular incidents that spring from a common cause – failure to realize the originating principle of the American Constitution, which is the expectation of “equality” for all men and women. 

The simmering expectation of equality resonates across America. It emanates from the founding of our great nation, the form of which has never been seen in world history. Black or white, we all seek the “pursuit of happiness,” which are unalienable rights as stated in our Declaration of Independence.

Inequality anywhere leads to intolerance, discrimination and subjugation everywhere. Americans may feel that these are indeed “times that try men’s souls,” but these times have been trying the souls of Black men and women in America for more than 400 years. 

Having recently celebrated the Fourth of July, our national Independence Day, it is important to note that we have reached another national tipping point. Much like our Colonial forefathers, we recognize that there is no turning back. 

When George Floyd’s life was brutally ended, I waited to pen my comments to see how the country responded. I am glad I delayed my article, because the response has taken a direction few would have expected. It has created a visceral reaction of anger and outrage in both Black and white Americans.

Those who now claim leadership of the resulting movement must be careful to not allow it to be co-opted by anarchists, criminal elements or political organizations who view this as an opportunity to expand their influence. The movement must remain focused on specific goals, which should include abolishing systemic discrimination and law enforcement reform but not the disbanding of police departments. 

If the movement is subsumed by interlopers, this could become a Pyrrhic victory in which the battle for equality is won but the war for freedom is lost. Individuals or organizations with other agendas reduce or abolish individual freedoms when addressing challenging social problems with a broad brush. Once that takes place, lost freedoms are never restored. 

That will impact all Americans. 


The author is a retired U.S. Navy captain who holds a bachelor’s degree from Savannah State University and a master’s degree from the U.S. Naval War College. He is the chairperson of the board of directors for STOP, Inc., and he serves as a member or board member with the Hampton Roads Black Caucus, the Republican Professionals Network, the Virginia Beach Mayor’s African American Roundtable and the Republican State Central Committee. He is the vice chairperson of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach. 


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