In 1948, I was a 17-year-old sophomore at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia, majoring in chemistry.
Our Ethics professor brought to the attention of the class, “An American Dilemma,” a 1944 study of race relations authored by Swedish Nobel-laureate economist Gunnar Myrdal and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Myrdal believed he saw a vicious cycle in which whites oppressed blacks, and then pointed to their poor performance as the reason for their oppression. The way out of this cycle, he argued, “was to either cure whites of the prejudice he believed existed, or to improve the circumstances of blacks, which would then disprove whites’ preconceived notions.”
Myrdal called this process the principle of “cumulation”.
I believe that was the beginning point in my interest more in government, societal problems, and exposing structural and institutional racism, than my chosen major.
I remain indebted to VUU for that grounding instruction charting my life’s pursuit.
That was 72 years ago, and yes, there has been change, but clearly not enough. Though I graduated with a B.S. in Chemistry, and worked in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, I chose the law, and subsequently public service to bring about policy changes to serve the people that are disproportionately affected by racial, educational, economic, health, and criminal justice inequities.
Myrdal’s work was pivotal, not just to my learning, but to creating the first presidential commission on race in the U.S., and even cited in the Brown v. Board decision desegregating schools. It cannot be doubted that it was an instrument of change.
Something else has changed, though; the commitment of our “leaders” at all levels and from ALL races, to represent the “people”.
The true history of America has NEVER been taught to all Americans. Little wonder that “we are doomed to repeat it.”
George Floyd, and the countless lives lost, spanning hundreds of years in this country, are a testament to the notion that justice delayed is justice denied.
For how long must Americans of color wait for equality and justice?