Remarks to the National Conference of Christians and Jews Alabama Region, February 22, 1990

22ND ANNUAL AWARDS DINNER PRESENTED BY
IRA A. LIPMAN NATIONAL CHAIRMAN N.C.C.J.
CHAIRMAN AND PRESIDENT GUARDSMARK, INC.

BIRMINGHAM-JEFFERSON CIVIC CENTER BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

FEBRUARY 22, 1990

THANK YOU.

I’M DELIGHTED TO SEE THIS WONDERFUL TURNOUT TONIGHT. IT IS A SURE SIGN TO THE FORCES OF IGNORANCE, INTOLERANCE, AND BIGOTRY THAT THEY SHALL NOT RULE-NOT HERE IN BIRMINGHAM-AND NOT ANYWHERE ELSE IN THIS GREAT NATION.

ALABAMA HAS SEEN ITS SHARE OF STRIFE. BUT IT IS NOT ALONE. ACROSS THE NATION-ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES, IN HIGH SCHOOLS, IN THE STREETS OF OUR CITIES, AND PAINTED ON THE WALLS OF TEMPLES-THERE ARE SIGNS OF GROWING INTOLERANCE THAT FEEDS ON FEAR AND IGNORANCE. AS IT ALWAYS HAS. AS IT ALWAYS WILL.

THAT IS NOT OUR NATIONAL VISION, AND IT MUST NEVER BECOME SO.

OUR ENTIRE NATION HAS MADE GREAT PROGRESS OVER THE LAST THREE DECADES IN REDEFINING WHAT WE, AS AMERICANS, MEAN BY COMMUNITY.

THE BLACK CIVIL RIGHTS STRUGGLE AND THE WOMEN’S EQUAL RIGHTS MOVEMENT CHALLENGED US TO LIVE UP TO THE NOBLE WORDS OF OUR CONSTITUTION. BY HOLDING UP A MIRROR TO OUR SOCIETY, THESE MOVEMENTS SHOWED US THE DISCREPANCY BETWEEN OUR EXALTED RHETORIC AND THE SEARING EFFECTS OF DISCRIMINATION, THE INDIGNITY OF SECOND-CLASS CITIZENSHIP, AND THE ODD NOTION OF COMMUNITY THAT EXCLUDED OVER HALF OF OUR PEOPLE FROM FULL PARTICIPATION IN OUR SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL LIFE.

AS A NATION WE LEARNED A GREAT DEAL FROM THOSE WHO HAD BEEN EXCLUDED. AND AS A NATION WE ARE STRONGER FOR HAVING ENLARGED OUR COMMUNITY. MANY WOMEN AND BLACKS FORCED THEIR WAY OUT OF THE ECONOMIC, POLITICAL, AND SOCIAL GHETTOS TO WHICH THEY HAD BEEN RELEGATED. THEY ADDED IMMEASURABLY TO THE HEALTH OF OUR GREAT ECONOMY, THE SOUNDNESS OF OUR POLITICS, AND THE STRENGTH OF OUR SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS.

UNFORTUNATELY, THOUGH, THERE ARE STILL TOO MANY BARRIERS TO FULL ACCEPTANCE OF VARIOUS GROUPS IN OUR SOCIETY. THE POVERTY RATE OF BLACKS IS 31 PERCENT, HIGHER THAN IT WAS IN 1978. FOR BLACK CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF SIX, THE POVERTY RATE IS OVER 45 PERCENT, COMPARED TO LESS THAN 18 PERCENT FOR WHITE CHILDREN.

WORKING WOMEN STILL MAKE ONLY 70 PERCENT OF WHAT THE AVERAGE MAN MAKES. AND MORE THAN HALF OF ALL POOR FAMILIES ARE HEADED BY WOMEN.

THROUGH ALL THE STRUGGLES OF THESE AND OTHER GROUPS TO GAIN ACCEPTANCE, THEY HAVE HAD TO FIGHT AN UNDERCURRENT OF FEAR BASED ON FALSEHOOD. THAT FEAR WAS BASED ON IGNORANCE AND IT FED ON IGNORANCE. IT ALWAYS INVOLVED IN SOME WAY THE DESTRUCTION OF CIVILIZED LIFE, THE COLLAPSE OF COMMUNAL VALUES, IF BLACKS, OR CATHOLICS, OR JEWS, OR WOMEN, OR ANY OTHER EXCLUDED GROUPS, WERE ALLOWED FULL MEMBERSHIP IN THE COMMUNITY.

SUCH NONSENSE COULD NOT LONG SURVIVE THE LIGHT OF EXPERIENCE AND EDUCATION. SUCH ABSURDITIES APPEAL TO THE UNEDUCATED, AND THE INCREASING SOPHISTICATION OF MODERN SOCIETY DISCOUNTS THESE RAVINGS.

BUT THERE IS A GROWING TENDENCY, EVEN MORE DANGEROUS BECAUSE IT IS RATIONAL AND PLAUSIBLE, TO CAST DISCRIMINATION AS AN ECONOMIC PROTECTION OF THE COMMUNITY. DISCUSSION OF SOCIAL POLICY IN AMERICA INCREASINGLY RESEMBLES A GREAT RAFT DEBATE.

MANY OF YOU HAVE PROBABLY HEARD A RAFT DEBATE. TO SET THE SITUATION, ASSUME A BOAT HAS SUNK IN MID-OCEAN AND FIVE PEOPLE HAVE SURVIVED. THERE IS ONLY ONE RAFT, BUT ROOM FOR ONLY FOUR. THE SURVIVORS MAKE THE BEST CASE THEY CAN FOR WINNING A PLACE ON THE RAFT. TYPICALLY, THE SURVIVORS MIGHT INCLUDE A MINISTER, A PHILOSOPHER, AN ARTIST, AN ENGINEER, AND AN ECONOMIST.

WHICH OF THESE EDUCATED, ARTICULATE, VALUED MEMBERS OF SOCIETY SHALL BE DECLARED EXPENDABLE?

RAFT DEBATES ARE STIMULATING LEARNING EXPERIENCES. THEY FORCE YOU TO DEFINE YOUR NOTION OF COMMUNITY, OF WHAT CONSTITUTES A GOOD SOCIETY, OF INDIVIDUAL WORTH AND SOCIAL VALUE. BUT IF YOU ADD TO THE DEBATE AN INNER-CITY BLACK, AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT, AN HISPANIC, OR ONE OF THE HOMELESS, THE DEBATE BECOMES A SIMULATION GAME THAT MIRRORS ALL TOO WELL OUR CURRENT POLICY DEBATES.

TWO MAJOR TRENDS POINT TO A GROWING POLITICS OF EXCLUSION.

THE FIRST IS THE INCREASING DISCUSSION OF WHAT WE CANNOT DO AS A NATION.

THE ERA OF RISING EXPECTATIONS THAT BEGAN IN THE 1960’S IS GIVING WAY TO A NEW ERA OF RISING LIMITATIONS. OUR SOCIETY IS INCREASINGLY SEEN AS A CLOSED SYSTEM, WITH NO FRONTIER, LIMITED RESOURCES, AND DISAPPEARING MARKETS. THIS NEW CONSCIOUSNESS OF LIMITS IS FED BY OUR INABILITY TO CONTROL THE WORLD FINANCIALLY, ECONOMICALLY, OR MILITARILY.

WITH ECONOMIC GROWTH SLOW, NONEXISTENT, OR IN DECLINE, WE ARE FACING A ZERO SUM SOCIETY, WHERE EVERYONE SCRAMBLES WILLY-NILLY FOR A PLACE ON THE RAFT.

AS YOU KNOW, A ZERO SUM GAME MANDATES THAT THERE BE WINNERS AND LOSERS. AND IF THE ECONOMIC PIE DOES NOT GROW, THE MORE PEOPLE INVITED TO THE TABLE, THE SMALLER THE SLICE FOR EVERYONE.

THE BELIEF IS GROWING THAT WE CAN KEEP WHAT WE HAVE ONLY BY DENYING OTHERS. THAT WAS THE MESSAGE OF AL CAMPANIS WHEN HE CLAIMED THAT BLACKS LACKED THE “NECESSITIES” TO COACH OR MANAGE OR OPERATE MAJOR LEAGUE TEAMS. AND THAT WAS THE MESSAGE OF JIMMY (“THE GREEK”) SNYDER WHEN HE SAID-IRONICALLY, IN AN INTERVIEW ON THE WEEKEND OF MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY-THAT “IF BLACKS TAKE OVER COACHING LIKE EVERYBODY WANTS THEM TO, THERE IS NOT GOING TO BE ANYTHING LEFT FOR THE WHITE PEOPLE.”

THAT MESSAGE IS USUALLY IMPLICIT AND SUBTLE BECAUSE IT IS NO LONGER POLITICALLY ACCEPTABLE TO BE SO BLUNT, AS AL CAMPANIS AND JIMMY “THE GREEK” DISCOVERED. OFTEN, THE MESSAGE IS NOT DELIVERED ORALLY, BUT THROUGH ACTIONS-OR INACTION. SOMETIMES, BECAUSE OF THE HEIGHTENED RACIAL TENSION, EVEN WHEN NOTHING IS IMPLIED, A GREAT DEAL CAN BE INFERRED.

WE LIVE IN A SPECIAL TIME.

ON ONE HAND WE HAVE AL CAMPANIS AND JIMMY “THE GREEK” CLAIMING THAT LEADERSHIP IS A PREROGATIVE OF THE WHITE RACE, AND WE HAVE ANDY ROONEY QUOTED AS STEREOTYPING BLACKS AS GENETICALLY INFERIOR HIGH SCHOOL DROP-OUTS WHO ONLY USE DRUGS AND HAVE BABIES. ON THE OTHER WE HAVE JESSE JACKSON DEMONSTRATING THE IGNORANCE OF THOSE POSITIONS. THIS SPECIAL TIME DEMANDS A SPECIAL SENSITIVITY TO THE ISSUES THAT DIVIDE US AS A NATION. AND THAT IS ESPECIALLY TRUE OF A GREAT STATE LIKE ALABAMA.

THE SECOND DANGEROUS TREND IS THE TENDENCY OF OUR SOCIETY TO SPLIT INTO SMALLER AND SMALLER GROUPS. EVERY DAY OUR SOCIETY FRAGMENTS FURTHER. MORE AND MORE PEOPLE IDENTIFY, NOT WITH THE NATION AS A WHOLE, BUT WITH THEIR REGION OR THEIR STATE OR THEIR CITY OR THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD OR THEIR BLOCK ASSOCIATION. EMPLOYEES INCREASINGLY IDENTIFY, NOT WITH THEIR COMPANIES, BUT WITH THEIR DEPARTMENTS OR THEIR SUPERVISORS.

THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT SPENDING TIME WITH OTHERS WHO SHARE OUR HERITAGE, OUR BELIEFS, OR OUR INTERESTS CAN STRENGTHEN OUR SELF- UNDERSTANDING AND SOCIAL TIES. BUT THE DEMASSIFICATION OF MODERN SOCIETY IS SPLITTING US INTO ENCLAVES OF SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS AND SPECIALIZED ASSOCIATIONS.

OUR SIMILARITIES RECEIVE SCANT ATTENTION AND OUR DIFFERENCES ARE MAGNIFIED, TO THE POINT WHERE SCHOLARS ASK EDUCATORS TO REINFORCE A COMMON CULTURAL HERITAGE-BECAUSE THAT HERITAGE IS NO LONGER COMMON. AT THE SAME TIME OUR SOCIETY IS FRAGMENTING, WE ARE WITNESSING A RISE IN RACIAL INCIDENTS. STATES FROM NEW YORK TO CALIFORNIA HAVE RECENTLY WITNESSED RACIAL ATTACKS.

SYNAGOGUES ARE AGAIN BEING VANDALIZED, AND BEGINNING IN 1987 ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENTS IN THE UNITED STATES HAVE INCREASED EVERY YEAR.

THIS NEW EVIDENCE OF BIGOTRY AND INTOLERANCE IS A DANGER SIGNAL THAT WE MUST NOT IGNORE. SUCH INCIDENTS ARE LIKELY TO INCREASE IN NUMBER AS PUBLIC POLICY DISCUSSION COMES TO RESEMBLE NOTHING SO MUCH AS A GREAT RAFT DEBATE.

IF WE THINK FOR A MOMENT OF OUR SOCIETY AS A RAFT, WHO HAS BEEN DECLARED EXPENDABLE, EITHER IMPLICITLY OR EXPLICITLY, IN DEEDS IF NOT IN WORDS?

THE HOMELESS ARE EXPENDABLE. THEY MUST BE, OR WE WOULDN’T ALLOW THE SITUATION WHERE OUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS SLEEP IN CARS, ON HEATED GRATES, OR IN ABANDONED BUILDINGS. WE ARE TOLD THAT THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THE PLIGHT OF THE HOMELESS. THEY ARE MENTALLY ILL, AND WE CANNOT FORCE THEM INTO HOSPITALS AGAINST THEIR WILL.

OR THEY ARE PERFECTLY SANE, AND THEIR DISTRUST OF SOCIETY AND GOVERNMENT IS WELL FOUNDED. WE CANNOT FORCE THEM TO GO TO OVERNIGHT SHELTERS.

OR THEY ARE SIMPLY DIFFERENT, AND WE MUST NOT FORCE THEM TO ACCEPT OUR CONVENTIONAL, MIDDLE-CLASS VALUES. WE MUST NOT FORCE THEM TO GIVE UP THEIR FREEDOM FOR OUR STRAIGHTJACKET OF HOME, HEARTH, AND EMPTY STRIVING FOR MATERIAL WEALTH.

SUCH RATIONALIZATIONS AS THESE ARE ALWAYS HANDY AS WE STEP AROUND THE HOMELESS WHO LITTER OUR CITY SIDEWALKS LIKE DEBRIS FROM THE SHIPWRECK OF CIVILIZATION.

BUT THE DESCRIPTION OF THE HOMELESS AS CRAZY, ANTI-SOCIAL, OR DIFFERENT IS ONLY A PARTIAL PICTURE. THE FASTEST GROWING SEGMENT OF THE HOMELESS CONSISTS OF FAMILIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN. IN NEW YORK CITY’S EMERGENCY SHELTERS, THERE ARE 28,000 PEOPLE. TWELVE THOUSAND OF THEM ARE CHILDREN WHOSE AVERAGE AGE IS SIX. IN MASSACHUSETTS IN 1986, 75 PERCENT OF ALL THE HOMELESS WERE FAMILIES. AND EVEN HERE TONIGHT, THERE ARE HOMELESS PEOPLE SLEEPING OUTSIDE NEARBY.

IT’S BEEN SAID THAT A RISING TIDE LIFTS ALL BOATS. BUT THAT’S NOT QUITE TRUE. THE RISING ECONOMIC TIDE OF RECENT YEARS LIFTED OUR BOATS, BUT OTHERS CAPSIZED, AND THE SURVIVORS ARE WASHING UP ON THE SHORES OF OUR GREAT CITIES, FROM SAN ANTONIO TO PHILADELPHIA.

WHO ELSE HAS BEEN EXCLUDED FROM OUR IMAGINARY RAFT? THE NEW UNDERCLASS OF THE URBAN POOR, PREDOMINANTLY BLACK, WHO ARE CHRONICALLY UNEMPLOYED, BARELY EDUCATED, AND SUBSISTING ON WELFARE FOR TWO, AND NOW THREE, GENERATIONS. IN THEIR DAILY LIVES THEY RUN A GAUNTLET OF GANGS AND DRUG DEALERS. THE INFANT MORTALITY RATE AMONG 15- TO 19-YEAR-OLD BLACK WOMEN IS DOUBLE THAT OF WHITES AND ON A PAR WITH UNDERDEVELOPED COUNTRIES.

BUT AS LONG AS THE UNDERCLASS REMAINS UNSEEN AND UNHEARD IN THEIR GHETTOS, AND THEY DON’T ROCK OUR RAFT, OUR SOCIETY IS CONTENT TO LET THEM DROWN IN DESPAIR.

THERE IS NO SPACE ON THE RAFT FOR THE ESTIMATED MILLIONS OF ILLITERATE ADULTS IN OUR MIDST. NO ROOM FOR POOR HISPANICS, WHOSE NUMBERS INCREASED 73 PERCENT BETWEEN 1970 AND 1980. NO ROOM FOR THOSE WHO LACK THE SKILLS NEEDED TO MAKE IT IN OUR INCREASINGLY COMPLEX, TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY.

WHAT CAN WE DO, TO WHOM SO MUCH HAS BEEN GIVEN AND OF WHOM SO MUCH WILL BE REQUIRED?

FIRST, WE CAN RECOGNIZE A RAFT DEBATE FOR WHAT IT IS: AN EXCELLENT EXERCISE FOR AN ETHICS CLASS OR AS THE HIGHLIGHT OF A LIBERAL ARTS WEEK ON CAMPUS. BUT AS A MODEL UNDERLYING SOCIAL POLICY, IT IS FATALLY FLAWED. BECAUSE THE ASSUMPTIONS ON WHICH IT IS BASED ARE FALSE.

OUR SOCIETY IS NOT A RAFT.

TO SHARE IS NOT TO SHRINK.

NO ONE IS EXPENDABLE.

TO THINK OF OUR SOCIETY AS A RAFT, AS A CLOSED SYSTEM WHERE SHARING DIMINISHES ALL OF US, IS A SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY.

INSTEAD, WE CAN THINK OF OUR SOCIETY AS A BANQUET TABLE, TO WHICH ALL OF US HAVE BEEN INVITED. WE WERE NOT INVITED BECAUSE OF OUR INTELLIGENCE, OR OUR EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENTS, OR BUSINESS ACHIEVEMENTS, OR OUR TABLE MANNERS. WE WERE INVITED BECAUSE WE ARE ALL CHILDREN OF GOD. WHO ARE WE TO TELL THE HOST THAT IT’S TIME TO BOLT THE DOORS, THAT THERE’S NOT ENOUGH FOOD TO GO AROUND, THAT THOSE PEOPLE OUTSIDE HAVE LOST THEIR INVITATIONS, OR DIDN’T DESERVE THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE, OR WILL EMBARRASS US WITH THEIR LACK OF ETIQUETTE?┬áTHIS IS NOT PRIMARILY A POLITICAL ISSUE OR AN ECONOMIC ISSUE. IT IS A MORAL ISSUE. POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC MEANS ARE ALWAYS FOUND WHERE MORAL COMMITMENT IS STRONG. BUT IF THAT STRENGTH IS LACKING, THEN AN ABUNDANCE OF REASONS-POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, AND SOCIOLOGICAL-SPRING UP OVERNIGHT TO EXPLAIN WHY THINGS ARE AS THEY ARE AND WHY NOTHING SHOULD OR CAN BE DONE.

BUT SUCH MISERY IN THE MIDST OF OUR ABUNDANCE SIMPLY CANNOT BE JUSTIFIED. IT IS TIME TO RECOGNIZE THAT GOOD WILL IS NOT ENOUGH. GOVERNMENT ALONE CANNOT DO THE JOB. SOCIAL SERVICE AGENCIES ALONE CANNOT DO THE JOB. CHURCHES, SYNAGOGUES, FOUNDATIONS, AND INDIVIDUAL MEN AND WOMEN ALONE CANNOT DO THE JOB. BUT TOGETHER, WITH FIRMNESS OF PURPOSE AND THE MORAL STRENGTH TO SEE IT THROUGH, WE CAN WIPE OUT THE POVERTY, MALNUTRITION, ILLITERACY, INFANT MORTALITY, AND UNEMPLOYMENT THAT RAVAGE OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN OUR OWN HOME TOWNS ACROSS THIS GREATEST AND WEALTHIEST OF NATIONS.

THE DAY SHOULD BE LONG PAST IN AMERICA WREN ANY PERSON IS SCORNED OR EXCLUDED OR LEFT BY THE WAYSIDE BECAUSE OF HIS OR HER RELIGION, RACE, GENDER, OR PLACE OF BIRTH.

TOO MANY INDIVIDUALS IN TOO MANY GROUPS HAVE BEEN DENIED FULL PARTICIPATION IN AMERICAN LIFE, TO THEIR REGRET AND OUR LOSS. ONE OF OUR GREATEST STRENGTHS AS A PEOPLE IS THE VERY DIVERSITY, THE RICHNESS OF OUR DIFFERENCES, THAT EXCLUSION, INTOLERANCE, AND BENIGN NEGLECT SEEK TO DENY.

IT SEEMS TO BE A NATURAL LAW THAT WITHOUT GROWTH, THERE IS DECAY. BUT GROWTH NEED NOT BE MEASURED ONLY IN TERMS OF ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL POWER. COMMUNITIES CAN ALSO GROW IN MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING, IN REVERENCE FOR THE INDIVIDUAL, IN RECOGNITION THAT EVERY PERSON CARRIES THE DIVINE SPARK OF LIFE.

COMMUNITY GROWTH ULTIMATELY DEPENDS ON THE ACTIONS OF INDIVIDUALS, AND THERE IS MUCH THAT WE AS INDIVIDUALS CAN DO, BOTH IN OUR PRIVATE AND PUBLIC ROLES, TO FOSTER THAT GROWTH.

THAT IS WHY I PROPOSED THAT A MOSLEM BE ADDED TO THE NATIONAL EXECUTIVE BOARD OF THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF CHRISTIANS AND JEWS, AND THAT WILL BE IMPLEMENTED DURING THIS CHAIRMANSHIP.

THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE WAS FOUNDED SIXTY-TWO YEARS AGO AS A NON- SECTARIAN ORGANIZATION, DEDICATED TO COMBATING RACIAL AND RELIGIOUS PREJUDICE IN THE UNITED STATES. THROUGHOUT ITS HISTORY IT HAS NURTURED THE IDEA OF COMMUNITY AND PROMOTED MUTUAL RESPECT AND UNDERSTANDING. RECENTLY THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE BROADENED ITS DEFINITION OF “COMMUNITY” BY APPOINTING TO ITS NATIONAL EXECUTIVE BOARD A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS.

SOON OUR COMMUNITY WILL GROW ENORMOUSLY BY BECOMING EVEN MORE INCLUSIVE, WITH THE ADDITION OF OUR ISLAMIC BROTHERS AND SISTERS. THE THREE GREAT MONOTHEISTIC FAITHS WILL THEN BE REPRESENTED IN A SYMBOLIC UNION THAT EXPRESSES OUR COMMON HUMANITY AND SHARED PURPOSE.

IT IS SOMETIMES DIFFICULT TO SEE THE DIVINE OPERATING IN OUR FELLOW MAN. OUR HUMAN VISION TOO EASILY BLURS WITH MISUNDERSTANDING, OR HATRED, OR INDIFFERENCE. BUT WE MUST NOT CEASE IN OUR STRUGGLE TO CREATE A TRUE COMMUNITY THAT INCLUDES ALL THE CHILDREN OF GOD. THANK YOU.