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Race, the economy and leadership Race, the economy and leadership
by Joseph Gatt
2021-01-19 09:56:22
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Having read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “the Radical King” and “Strength to love”, I felt that he drew a lot of inspiration from the Biblical prophet Moses. Dr. King also draws a lot of his inspiration from Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi, but the gist of his inspiration seemed to come from Moses.

Dr. King was effective in leading the African American community to unite for the cause of equal rights in the United States. But, perhaps, a better understanding of Moses would lead to a better understanding of how racial equality can better work in a more perfect union that the United States would be.

kin001_400Moses did not just say “Yalla le Yirushalaim” (let's go to Jerusalem). Moses did not just say “yesh li chalom ke kulanu chaim be chevra shavit ba Aretz Israel” (I have a dream that we will all live in an equal society in the Land of Israel). In sum, Moses was not just about rebel rousing speeches.

Moses had to lead a community of 600,000 Hebrews out of Egypt and into the Land of Israel. So Moses improvised with the help of God. God helped Moses identify the Hebrews, united them, and brought them under his leadership.

Then the Hebrews, under the leadership of Moses, roamed the desert for 40 years before settling in the Promised Land.

BUT, Moses was not always a great leader. He lost the people of Israel at several instances. His people, who Moses trusted would worship God, started worshipping the Golden Calf. Moses thought he'd lost them.  

But then God sent Moses something called “laws” and gave Moses the code of laws according to which the Jews should live. Anywhere from not baring false witness to not murdering to eating proper food to the laws of marriage to laws regarding health and festivals and so on.

So this is where I wish I could have met with Dr. King to discuss that part of the Bible. That is peaceful protests and enflamed speeches sure help advance the cause. But so does a code of conduct or a legal framework that can ensure social harmony.

In Biblical times, God gave Moses laws ranging anywhere from labor laws (you shall have no slaves, no work on the Sabbath) to marriage laws (you can't marry your step father's sister among other rules) to how trials should be conducted. Once God gave those laws to Moses, and that Moses had a legal apparatus to control the people of Israel, albeit with great difficulty, Moses climbed Mount Sinai and saw the Promised Land.

So back to racial equality and racial justice in the United States. Without some kind of legal framework, some kind of code of ethics and conduct that Americans adhere to, you can't really advance racial equality.

And for there to be legal awareness and literacy, you need literacy. That is all Americans have legal rights and laws that protect them (and punish them). But if you go to American schools, they might teach you math and science and history, but no one really teaches you what your rights are, what laws protect you, and what laws punish you.

I'm not saying Americans are illiterate. But by literacy I mean a certain degree of understanding of the world surrounding you. A good place to see how clueless some Americans can be about life, Americans of all backgrounds, is on a radio show called “the Dave Ramsay show.” Dave Ramsay has people call him, anywhere from North Dakota to Iowa to Texas to Delaware to Alabama, and they are of all ethnic backgrounds.

On the Dave Ramsay show you get a feel of how some Americans really focus on feeding their basis needs and nothing else. And then they get in trouble because the entire focus was on satisfying their basic needs through living way over their means.

But before you set up laws, in Moses' fashion, you probably need to survey population needs. In Biblical times, Moses found out that his followers were no longer following him and were focused on worshipping a golden calf (which is really a euphemism for luxury and abundance, as in meat, milk and gold) and Moses had to survey his folks (my ancestors) and figure out a way, with God's help, to bring them back to the right track.

Yet, in the United States, there seems to be no survey of what goes on in different communities. Why are people failing in schools while others are succeeding? Why are people working really hard while others are idling around? Why do some companies have trouble hiring while a lot of people can't find work? Why are people starving and homeless when almost every shop in town has a “Hiring” sign on its door? Why would people borrow half a million dollars for a Ph.D. in “aesthetic window design” when the actual guys designing windows are high school drop outs?

So once you've surveyed the population, their needs, and why a lot of people seemed to be drifting off shore in the population, that's when you set up a legal system to harmonize the population.

In Dr. King's time African Americans were legally an inferior race. So were Indians in India under British rule and the Black population of South Africa under the apartheid rule.

Dr. King's speeches helped the African-American cause gain acceptance among the White population, and laws were voted, and Supreme Court decisions helped achieve full equality between minorities and the White population in the United States, including ending all segregation in any form, anywhere. And abolishing other racist laws like poll taxes to vote, where an African American 70 year old had to pay 50 Dollars to vote as a tax (50 dollars back then could be a few months worth of wages) and other nonsense laws.

But, just like Moses, Dr. King and his legacy did see quite a few African-Americans (and Caucasian Americans) drift away from his ideals. In Moses' time it was worshipping the Golden Calf, in modern times it's maxing out on credit cards, freebasing on drugs, and sexual promiscuity, among other behaviors you see, again, among African-Americans AND Caucasian Americans, that leads to all kinds of racial tensions and in some cases fanatics springing up in both camps.

So I'd survey the ground. And I'd set up a legal framework that can not just punish breaking the law, but that can actually incentivize people not to commit crimes. And that means that laws should be part of society and the community. In Biblical times, everyone adopted the Sabbath. In modern times, laws need to reflect harmony within the community and to be an incentive not to engage in behavior that leads to crimes.

What about racial injustice? I'm often surprised at how proudly many big American cities are segregated. You have Korea Towns and China Towns and Spanish Harlems and African-American neighborhoods and White neighborhoods, and it's almost like people who don't belong there really don't belong there and are not allowed to set foot there. Unless you go to segregated towns to visit a restaurant, after which they should leave the zone.

Landlords want to keep the zones segregated, and you'd have to speak some pretty decent Spanish to land a place in Spanish Harlem.

This can become a problem because then you have schools where half the students are Korean, schools where half the students are Vietnamese, schools where 85% students are African-American, schools where 9 out of 10 students are of Hispanic descent and so on.

And if you haven't mixed in your formative years, it's going to be very hard to mix in your adult life.

Now here's an example that can feel a little anecdotal but you'll get the idea. There aren't many libraries in Algiers. Very few libraries actually. I found a small American library not far from where I live. There were a couple thousand American non-fiction books, some of which I needed to read (as you could not borrow books). So I sat down at the library (I was the only guy in there) and would read books and take notes.

Surprisingly, the cleaning lady (who thought I was an Arab like herself) started “obsessively cleaning” the library, flailing around while she was cleaning, and she would order me out of my seat so she could clean that corner, and would spend a couple of hours “cleaning” my seat. That meant I started drinking too much coffee waiting for her to finish “cleaning” my corner, and I gave up on visiting that library.

So the lady was used not to have to clean the place, and my presence at the library meant she had to work, so she had to find a way to kick me out. This may sound anecdotal, but that's kind of how peer pressure works in a lot of schools, colleges and neighborhoods in the US. The minute they see you hit the books, they try to take you out for a few drinks, or for other more laid back behavior.

Then of course there employment discrimination and judges that tend to be more lenient with White criminals than with minority criminals and the system tends to be more lenient towards the Caucasian community.

But, America still is the land of opportunity, and you have quite a lot of people who know how to work the system rather well.

Who are the hidden champions? They are people who focus on getting the job done without worrying too much about politics. Actually without worrying about politics at all. In America, when you're clueless about politics (or pretend to be) and really focus on the tasks and mission, you can be of any background and lead a pleasant life.

The problem is, some people think that in addition to being good at their job, they need to get into politics because politics “makes you look smart.” But when you bring politics inside the office or shop or floor that rarely plays in your favor.

In sum. Politicians need to survey the system and fix it with good rules that incentivize law-abiding behavior. And workers need to drop politics and focus on getting the job done. That should bend the arc a little more towards justice.

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