Oh the irony. Michelle Obama spoke to graduating high school students in Topeka, Kansas on May 16, celebrating the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which legally ended school segregation.
Our laws may no longer separate us based on our skin color, but there’s nothing in our constitution that says we have to eat together in the lunchroom or live together in the same neighborhoods. There’s no court case against believing in stereotypes or thinking that certain kinds of hateful jokes or comments are funny.
Graduates, it’s up to all of you to lead the way and drag my generation and your grandparents’ generation along with you… When you meet folks who think they know all the answers because they’ve never heard any other viewpoints, it’s up to you to help them see things differently.
I’m not going to lie to you. This won’t be easy. You might have to ruffle a few feathers, and folks might not always like what you have to say… So, graduates, that is your mission: to make sure all those voices are heard, to make sure everyone in this country has a chance to contribute. [emphasis mine]
The lies come so easily. It’s Michelle Obama’s generation that is dragging our nation back into racism, a racism that is almost totally absent in most 18 year olds. The culture at that age is color blind, except when they are told to keep tabs on their parents, lest some latent form of unchecked privilege manifest itself at the dinner table.
I’m so glad that 17 and 18 year old high school graduates are blessed to have heard every viewpoint, so they can be reassured that they know all the answers, not those “folks” they meet, like parents or college professors or employers, who obviously don’t know anything. Every parent must be so glad to hear their child being encouraged to “help them to see things differently.” Because these kids know so much.
Thank God that our First Lady reminded these newly-minted adults that the Constitution should be amended to force us to eat together, live together, and laugh only at the approved jokes. ”There is no law”…but there should be is the unsaid part. She gave them a mission to see to it that such laws are passed when they inherit the baton of leadership from their know-nothing parents.
The biggest irony is that, although Topeka is the headline case for school segregation, Kansas really didn’t experience Jim Crow laws or social segregation as much as the deep south. When we think about modern civil rights, Kansas doesn’t immediately come to mind.
In real history, the kind they should be teaching in high school (but don’t), Kansas has an important place in civil rights. Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Democrat from Illinois, single-handedly shepherded the Kansas-Nebraska Act through Congress in 1854. This created Kansas as a US Territory, while at the same time undoing the Missouri Compromise, which guaranteed all new territories would be free states, not slave. Senator Douglas believed in a doctrine called “popular sovereignty”, which is a form of pure democracy, not the kind we have in our republic. “Popular sovereignty” was written into the Kansas-Nebraska Act, giving the new residents of those territories the ability to choose to be a slave or free government, and that broke the Missouri Compromise.
Three things resulted from this:
- Kansas quickly became the bloodiest place in the country, where regular gun battles broke out between slave sympathizers and “Free-Staters”, while ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation was the rule rather than the exception (in fact, Topeka became the haven for abolitionists, hardly a racist center of hate).
- Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas had a series of speeches and debates when Lincoln ran for Douglas’ Senate seat, before he defeated Douglas for President. These speeches elevated Lincoln’s profile and gave him much popular support (thanks, Illinois Democrats!).
- The Whig party was so fragmented in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska act that it ceased to be, and was replaced by the brand new Republican Party (thanks again).
The Republicans were against slavery. The Democrats were not. Maybe Michelle Obama should be reminding the graduates of that legacy. But that would be too easy, and too truthful.