In July 1960, 16 of us who were college juniors enrolled in the US Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) traveled from New York to Augusta, Georgia, to give over our lives to the Army for six weeks of basic military training.
We went a day before we were due to report in order to have some fun before we gave ourselves over to what at best was a less than pleasant military experience. We were eight Jews and eight blacks traveling to the segregated south for the first time in our lives. This was before the Internet and online reservations. So upon arrival, we hailed a few taxis and went to the Bel Air Hotel in Augusta, which we knew had a pool and reasonable rates.
Upon approaching the front desk I asked the clerk if he had rooms. When he said yes, I asked for four rooms for the 16 of us. He looked at me and said, “THEY can’t come in here, we don’t allow them in this hotel.” He meant our black colleagues, although if he knew we were Jewish he probably would not have wanted us there either. All of us were shocked as we had never experienced segregation in the flesh, as it were, and we beat a hasty retreat to the taxis and went to the Holiday Inn, as by then the national chains were no longer segregated.
But that portion of American history was due to change dramatically, as segregation became superseded by laws that no longer permitted racial or religious separation in schools or any other public places in the United States. While the struggle for equality was a long one – and many would say that it has not yet been fully realized – there was an understanding that for a nation to grow and prosper it had to be “one nation (under God), indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” as America’s pledge of allegiance so meaningfully states.
One would think that the population of America – black, white, brown, yellow and all of the miscellaneous shades therein – would have been reveling that acceptance of everyone without regard to religion or race was a realizable goal, and one very much in the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “We may all have come on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.”
Fast forward 60 years, and where is America now? Some statistics:
• 42% of American universities have segregated residence halls
• 46% of American college campuses have segregated orientation programs for incoming students
• 72% of American universities have segregated graduation ceremonies, one for whites, one for blacks, one for Latinas, etc.
• The University of Michigan at Dearborn recently sponsored a “whites only” virtual café event in response to the one that was held for blacks only.
• The National Football League has mandated that this year each game will begin with the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner followed by Lift Every Voice and Sing, commonly referred to as the Black National Anthem.
Can a country really have more than one national anthem? After all, it is called a “national anthem” not “one of our national anthems.” And how far does that go? Will there be a Latina national anthem next? And then an indigenous people’s national anthem? Where does that stop?
What is happening in America is that people are so “woke” that they eventually become racist taking us back in time to a period no thinking person wants to revisit.
Now, one could say, who cares? After all, we don’t live in America so it’s their problem. Sadly, it is not only America’s problem, it is the world’s problem. For better or for worse, America has been the beacon on the hill, the example that the rest of the world could point to as a democracy that works, one that endures and sets the high bar for what progressive countries can try to emulate.
But if America, the strongest military and economic power in history, is no longer the beacon of democracy and racial/religious neutrality that everyone thought it was, then there is no politically progressive model left for other countries to emulate. The world can criticize Pax Americana all it wants, but for 70 years after World War II, civilization was significantly less chaotic than what it had been for centuries earlier. Without the guiding light of a democratically functioning America, the risk is that the world will sink back into what was its natural state for the previous millennia: a state of chaos.
One can only hope that the worldwide descent into partisan politics can somehow be reversed, else civilization itself may well be at risk of imploding just as the planet on which we live seems to be spewing us forth as well.
The writer is a 38-year resident of Israel, CEO of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based international business development consultancy and former national president of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.