Editor’s note: This commentary is by Weiland Ross, a resident of Sunderland.
Among the issues dominating public discussion this summer are some that are manufactured as opposed to being real. The problem is that when a manufactured issue morphs into a real issue by attracting attention to itself, the problem takes on a life of its own that is not justified by the realities that underlie the matter in question.
The grievance industry continues to advocate more political representation for African-Americans in Vermont as one of its goals. Since this group makes up about 1.5% of our population, this requires some thought. Our Legislature consists of 180 senators and representatives. All Vermont citizens are equally able to seek election to office. To say to any one group, “You are entitled to a share of this representation” implies that all identifiable groups are entitled to a “share.” The question now becomes which groups are entitled to how much representation. Race is only one aspect of grouping. Culture, national origin, religion, gender and other designations have to be considered. Can a female speak for males? Can a Catholic speak for Jews? Can a Hispanic speak for an Abenaki? Where do people who do not choose to label themselves fit in? Perhaps we should consider this to be a non-issue and continue to let our representatives be chosen according to their ability to convince us that they are capable of representing us fairly, regardless of labels.
Next, the demand to end “state sanctioned violence by police” is, in reality, another non-issue. Our state laws, state officials and local officials do not condone in any way unnecessary violence by police officers who are enforcing the law or attempting to apprehend a person who is a suspect for a criminal act. All of the rules that the police must follow in dealing with the public stress the need to avoid using force of any kind to resolve the matter at hand. Force of any kind, physical or deadly, is to be used only if it is necessary to restrain a suspect or to defend an officer from a threat by a suspect. There exists no statistical or other evidence that our police forces are doing anything other than their stated goals to “protect and serve” the public. The “blue lives” are on the line for us. They deserve our respect and support.
As for another issue, the matter of paying reparations for slavery is almost too illogical to discuss. People who were never slaves want compensation from people who never owned a slave. The evil that was slavery is long gone. We do not have in our legal and philosophical systems the concepts of group guilt or group innocence. Our laws and our social contract are centered on the concept of individuals being responsible for their own actions, not the actions of others. We do not accept as valid the concept of hereditary guilt or innocence. What someone’s ancestor did once upon a time is not something that anyone can be held to atone for now. Likewise, the descendants of a victim are not able to claim they have inherited the injury. The only punishment for a crime that is forbidden in the U.S. Constitution is that family members of declared traitors can not be punished. Our “equal protection” principles guarantee us protection from being held responsible for offenses we did not commit. As a practical matter, determining just who might be eligible to receive compensation for being the descendant of a slave presents serious requirements for proof. At this point in time, the majority of African-Americans in our population are not descended from American slaves. They are descended from parents or grandparents of African descent who immigrated to the U.S. in the 20th century, either from African countries or from countries in the Latin American and Caribbean areas. Examples of well known persons of African descent who do not qualify as descendants of slaves include Kamala Harris, Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Harry Bellefonte and Juan Williams, to name a few. Likewise, the overwhelming majority of Caucasian Americans are descended from people who immigrated here after 1880. How is it fair to ask these people to pay for something that their ancestors could not possibly have been involved with?
Our society is not perfect. We are actively striving and making great progress in that direction. More improvement is possible, and will undoubtedly be achieved. However, we are not a racist society. We do not systematically oppress any group of people. Our social contract requires that we treat each other with respect. This is honored in practice by almost all of our population. People who violate the contract are considered deviants and punished by the laws. The social justice warriors have to find real issues that need to be resolved and abandon these manufactured grievances. The voices of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Shelby Steele, Jason Riley and Bob Woodson need to be listened to. Al Sharpton needs to be ignored for the race-baiter that he has always been. The Black Lives Matter movement needs to be recognized as an organized attempt by radicals to destroy our entire system and replace it with who knows what. The culture can not be canceled by anyone. We are America. We are Americans. There is no better place or people that can replace us.