Scapegoating minorities is childish

Our parish priest pointed out today that we learned all our life skills in kindergarten including loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Fast forward and neighborly love didn’t quite work out according to the master plan. Enter the 8th grade with one African-American in our class with all Caucasians. He was discriminated against by most of the class big time until he earned respect by scoring a TKO fighting one of the tougher students in our classroom.

This fight was promoted by our toughest student. The minority student lived on a segregated block on the other side of the railroad in Philadelphia. My family went there to buy quality shoes from a shoe store on that block called “Freemans.” The store owner’s sarcastic naming of that store was ironically symbolic that liberty and justice in America did not yet exist. Mr. Freeman was probably a Jewish businessman.

Fast forward again and my adult job after college was visiting juvenile delinquents on probation in 1971 in segregated neighborhoods after the civil rights laws were passed. These segregated neighborhoods consisted of many high-rise buildings and/or small houses and very small grocery markets usually owned by Koreans or Chinese. There were not any big grocery markets like normal neighborhoods had. School funding was inadequate and there were bars to gaining blue collar employment in the trade unions. Minorities were not accepted.

All these above cited impediments created poor nutrition, poor education and poor job opportunities. Instead of climbing the social ladder, minorities were all too often deprived of any ladders to climb! A decade or so later, our governor had legislation passed called the “Three strikes and you are out law,” for habitual law offenders.

After the welfare to work law was also implemented during the Clinton presidency, more minorities than ever before went to prison. In retrospect, recidivism among minorities could have been reduced if there was improved housing and school funding, along with more job opportunities in these segregated neighborhoods.

Incredibly, or maybe not, discrimination also existed very much in our workplace. Salaries were very low, in contrast to caseloads being very high. Mold and asbestos was abundant in our very old court building and nobody in upper management cared. Unionization then occurred out of necessity to level the playing field with management who only cared about the good old dollar and cents profit motive. Consequently, pay, benefits, pensions, and working conditions continually improved over the years allowing many of our workers to realize the American middle-class dream of having economic stability and decent work and living environments.

In contrast, “right to work” laws were imposed on my in-laws down South resulting in a premature retirement for them due to terrible working conditions, forced overtime without pay and little or no benefits. Don’t be fooled by false prophets who promote scapegoating minorities and unions. The skills we learned in kindergarten need to be reawakened to begin again loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Bill Clemens


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