Posted by on January 7, 2019

Alex Iby A future FB blog

Photo: Alex Iby

There’s an amazing future coming. Evidence is all around. You only have to know where to look.

Look in the wrong places though and you don’t feel amazed. Instead, you feel fear, insecurity and apprehension.

Take people who believe in justice and equality, for example. Some of these people fear the future we’re creating. They say that world would look a lot like the one depicted in the Golden Globe winning movie Green Book.

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Photo: The Green Book movie website

The movie is set in the violently segregated American south. A virtuoso musician, who is black, is on a concert tour. He faces discrimination, as you’d expect. But he has two things going for him. One is his driver, a tough guy he hired to both drive him around and also protect him while on tour.

The other is a book from which the movie takes its name.

The Green Book solved a big problem blacks in mid 20th Century America faced. It was the golden age of road travel. Whites enjoyed hospitality of gas stations, hotels, leisure locations, popular destinations and restaurants.

Blacks didn’t.

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The actual Green Book (Photo: New York Public Library Digital Collections)

Most places along America’s highways and backroads didn’t cater to blacks. Some were outright hostile to them. Even areas outside the South refused to serve black people. For example:

  • Not one hotel or other accommodation was open to blacks in Salt Lake City in the 1920s. If black travelers had to stop there overnight, they were screwed.
  • Only six percent of the more than 100 motels that lined U.S. Route 66 in Albuquerque, admitted black customers.
  • Across the whole state of New Hampshire, only three motels in 1956 served African-Americans.

This made cross-country road travel difficult and dangerous. Some people, like my mother, would drive nonstop from one coast to the next. They would pack picnics and “pee buckets” instead of stopping at restaurants or bathrooms. It was a practical necessity.

And a major inconvenience.

The Green Book made cross-country travel easier. It featured restaurants, hotels, service stations, and other businesses relatively friendly to black motorists. It’s creator, Victor Hugo Green hoped one day “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” or “The Green Book,” for short, would become unnecessary. He hoped American would change.

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The Green Book creator (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Green Book was literally the black AirBnB of its time. But it wasn’t the only guide of its kind at the time. A number of similar guidebooks popped up.

What’s interesting about this book, though, was who was in it. As Wikipedia notes:

“Segregation meant that facilities for African-American motorists were limited, but entrepreneurs of both races realized the lucrative opportunities in marketing goods and services to black patrons.”

Yes, there were black homes and businesses listed. There were some white-owned businesses in there too. Particularly Jewish ones. Jews often experienced discrimination on the road too. So they understood the black experience. But one of the biggest oil companies in the country at the time, not only was in the Green Book, it was an active sponsor.

“As representatives of the Esso Standard Oil Co., we are pleased to recommend the Green Book for your travel convenience. Keep one on hand each year and when you are planning your trips, let Esso Touring Service supply you with maps and complete routings, and for real ‘Happy Motoring’ – use Esso Products and Esso Service wherever you find the Esso sign.”

That’s a quote from an Esso marketing campaign. Today Esso is known as ExxonMobil. Clearly, Esso saw profit opportunity. Other gas stations, such as Shell refused black people. And missed out.

While a lot of the country in mid-20th Century refused to cater to black people, some parts did. They allowed blacks adventure as they traveled America’s highways. In return, these few places and people made money catering to back motorists. While it wasn’t great, the Green Book made national road travel better. And some people richer.

In time, as we all know, racism towards black people went underground as national legislation made it illegal and popular opinion made it less ok. Today, because of Obama’s presidency, the browning of America, and other factors, we’re seeing an overt resurgence of racism.

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A page from inside the guide. Note the Esso advertisement top (Photo: New York Public Library Digital Collections)

And while that resurgence is temporary, it doesn’t keep people from serving black people in today’s economy.

An economy requiring people to earn a living.

An economy requiring people to pay for their necessities and live in massive debt in a corrupt political and economic environment.

· · ·

The point of all this?

Some say you can’t depend on human beings being nice to each other. You need to force them to be nice through law. People who believe in justice and equality, for example, fear that law is the only thing standing between an increasingly equal and just world on one hand, and a world where Americans oppress (often violently) the basic rights of other Americans on the other.

They’re right of course. It took law to change some people’s minds. But the opportunity to become wealthy also played a significant role. In the movie Green Book, the main character, the musician’s driver, is Italian. In the beginning, he is as bigoted as any other white person. After two months on the road with the black musician, he became less of a bigot. Why did he take the job? The musician paid him.

Esso wasn’t promoting the Green Book out of the goodness of its heart or the force of law. It saw opportunity others couldn’t. In other words, wealth opportunities help defeat racism too.

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Real freedom for all- a sure way to end racism: (Photo: Yingchou Han)

Now, consider the future where everyone’s basic food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare are provided to everyone at no cost to anyone. Where no one is in debt and everyone enjoys a freedom impossible today. And where capital goods are available to anyone without having to pay for those either. It’s hard for us to believe people won’t be nicer to each other in that future. A future where everyone is immediately wealthier and where becoming even more wealthy is only possible by being nice.

It’s true, even in the future we’re designing, some won’t be nice. But it doesn’t matter. There will be enough people and businesses taking up the slack. Until those “some” either get it, or are replaced by people and businesses who do.

In either case, those who some people think will be disadvantaged will actually live luxuriously. Far better than they do now.

How do we know?

We know the future. And it’s going to be amazing for everyone.

People see the world they believe in. There are lots of examples where racists’ wealth helps them keep minorities from getting what they want and need. But as Green Book showed, there are also examples, right beside the previous ones, where those same minorities get served. In our future a person’s wealth can’t block the wealth of another.

The evidence of a better future is everywhere. You only have to know where to look.

(There’s a great podcast about the Green Book. Wikipedia has a great article about it too. See the movie. It’s funny.)

 

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