Racism and Progress

As I watch the SpaceX launch and contrast it with the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, I am reminded of a quote in a story about the 1968 Kerner Commission that examined the causes of the 1960’s race riots.

“When John F. Kennedy declared that an American would reach the moon by the end of the 1960s, even Republicans lined up behind him. In 1968, as they proposed an ambitious cure for racial inequality, Kerner Commission members probably heard echoes of JFK’s words: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Indeed, the United States was prosperous enough to reach for the moon; nevertheless, Pretzer says, “The Johnson administration would not shift resources from the war in Vietnam to social reform, and Congress would not agree to tax increases. Further, state legislatures routinely blunted the local impact of federal actions.

”Ultimately, going to the moon was far easier than solving the nation’s racial issues. Politically, spending billions on space travel was more saleable than striving to correct racial inequality. Since the arrival of the first African slaves in North America early in the 17th-century, prejudice, often supported by law, has circumscribed the experiences of African-Americans.”

Alice George, Smithsonian Magazine, March 1, 2018

Remember that human progress is universal in the long run, but is not shared equally in the near term. We are right to celebrate the launch as it represents the advance of humanity, but we should also remember that we need to do the hard things on this planet too.

Read more about what we can do to combat racism here.