The More Things Change…

Mikael Wagner
8 min readNov 5, 2023

In 1849, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” — the more things change, the more they stay the same. In other words, despite apparent changes or advancements in society, certain fundamental aspects or patterns remain unchanged over time. When I watch world news each day, I feel like puking my guts out regarding all the misinformation and bullshit being peddled throughout the world.

As a young boy, I was taught to have hope, faith, and belief that all things and all people are good. Santa Claus was probably the first truth I discovered at a young age when I saw our local Santa drunk on the streets. I don’t blame my parents for pulling the wool over our eyes at all, they wanted to protect us. They tried to keep hoping that me and my siblings would have a good life without struggling against hatred, discrimination, and racism. If they were able to step out of their graves today, they would probably run back for safety, realising it’s the same world they left behind.

Over the past 3 years, I have learned the truth about my history, Black history in America. As children, we were all taught American history, but for some reason, there were no topics about slavery and all the other injustices. My friends and I swallowed the lies; we fell for it hook, line, and sinker. It’s when you have been completely tricked or encouraged to believe a lie or deception. It reminds me of how politicians trick their constituents to win votes. During the outbreak of COVID-19, so many of my friends and relatives believed and held onto many conspiracy theories that the government created a poisonous vaccination to kill us.

Every morning my day starts with lots of wonderful emails from friends. They keep me in the loop about all the shocking things happening in their locations. Almost daily in America, people of colour are beaten by police officers and called racial slurs in between punches to the face, and kicks to the abdomen. Those are the lucky ones, others are merely shot while in handcuffs because police people say they were scared for their lives, although they are the only ones with weapons. Often the wrong person is harassed and beaten because all African Americans seem to fit the same description of someone who committed a crime on the other side of town.

After reading so many powerful books by African Americans about things that occurred in the past, it’s horrific that the same things are happening today. Here are a few examples:

Lies. A white woman lies to the police claiming a Black boy or man raped her. Just to be clear, there is no difference in the eyes of racist police between a young Black boy and a man. Without any proof, police officers would arrest any Black man that fits the made-up description. Often the police would release the person being held to a mob of angry racists that would murder the innocent victim and lynch them from a tree, a reason for them to celebrate his death as a family event. Lynching was often treated as a spectator sport, where large crowds gathered to partake in or watch the torture and mutilation of the victim(s). These events were often treated as festive celebrations, with food, family photos, and souvenirs. Whites used these events to demonstrate their power and control. It reminds me of Emmett Till, an African American boy who was abducted, tortured, and lynched in Mississippi in 1955 at the age of 14, after being accused of offending a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, in her family’s grocery store. The brutality of his murder and the acquittal of his killers drew attention to the long history of violent persecution of African Americans in the United States. The Justice Department reopened an investigation in 2018 after a book quoted Carolyn Bryant-Donham, the accuser, saying she lied about Till’s advances. Her family has publicly denied that Donham has said that. The Justice Department closed the investigation two years ago without bringing charges. Donham’s death means no legal justice will come from the case, but the story lives on as a reminder.

Barbecue Becky. Today, the same things continue to happen. Remember “Barbecue Becky” who called the cops on a Black family barbequing at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California for using a charcoal grill? To her misfortune, the video of her yelling at the police and the Black family went viral on every television channel and social media network. How difficult is it to mind your own business or move to another site in the park?

Two, Four, Six, Eight, We Don’t Want to Segregate. When 6-year-old Ruby Bridges walked up the steps of William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis on Nov. 14, 1960, she entered history without knowing it. The angry mob of white people screamed at the little girl and called her all types of derogative names. Yet, she managed to continue entering the school. She is the subject of a 1964 painting, The Problem We All Live With, by Norman Rockwell. Even today, many parents don’t want their children to be near or touching a Black, Asian, or Latino child. So many negative lessons in life that get taught to young children.

Money Talks, Bullshit Walks. Today, if you have enough money, you can influence politicians and universities to accept students from well-to-do families, even when they don’t have the qualifications, all in exchange for large donations. This has been happening as long as I have been alive, and it has gotten worse now that everyone is aware of it. The occurrence keeps repeating itself, but now on the down low and only discussed at private parties or gatherings. In the workplace, very often white people obtain key positions without a shred of knowledge or evidence they know how to excel. Many years ago, African Americans were not allowed to learn to read. Those who violated the rules put up a struggle to get a college degree knowing they could be killed for getting an education. After all, yesterday and today racists still believe and teach their children that they are the supreme race when in fact we all know the truth.

Corrupt Local & Supreme Court Judges. Yesterday and today provide the same corruption in the courtroom. Usually, if someone with Black or Brown skin is on trial, it doesn’t matter if they are guilty or not. In most cities and states, juries are selected to convict people of colour and send them to prison. This is a part of the old Jim Crow Laws. Placing one’s hand on a bible and swearing to tell the truth and nothing but the truth is the beginning of every great lie. Usually what follows that promise is permission to lie constantly about everything. The previous, orange-coloured President in America taught a country how to stand up and lie with confidence, even when the bible is held upside down in fake publicity shots. Once elected in 2016, racists were supported by elected officials and police officers giving them the right to hate anyone who looks different from them.

January 6th Insurrection. On January 6, 2021, following the defeat of U.S. President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, a crowd of his supporters was encouraged to attack the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. by Trump. Their goal was to keep Trump in power by preventing a joint session of Congress from counting the Electoral votes to formalize the victory of President-elect Joe Biden. According to the House select committee that investigated the incident, the attack was the culmination of a 7-part plan by Trump to overturn the election. As of July 7, 2022, monetary damages caused by attackers exceeded $2.7 million.

Jim Crow. Are you aware of the Jim Crow period in the United States? It existed long before I was born. From the late 1870s Southern state legislatures passed laws requiring the separation of whites from “persons of colour” in public transportation and schools. Segregation was extended to public parks, swimming pools, housing, cemeteries, medical facilities, theatres, and restaurants to prevent any contact between Blacks and whites as equals. Although the U.S. Constitution forbade outright racial discrimination, every state of the former Confederacy moved to disfranchise African Americans by imposing biased reading requirements, stringent property qualifications, or complex poll taxes. Today, there is still no honest representation of those paying their taxes. The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status — denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement.

Gun Control. Do you own a gun? It’s easier to buy a gun at a local retailer than it is to clip your nails. Every day I wake up wondering how many people were murdered today. Did you know that more than 25,000 people have been killed by gun violence in America today? Of those who died, 879 were teens and 170 were children. Deaths by suicide have made up most of gun violence deaths this year. There have been more than 14,000 deaths by gun suicide this year, an average of about 66 deaths by suicide per day in 2023. So far, most of these deaths have occurred in Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, and Louisiana. Also, gun violence deaths include 488 people killed in police officer-involved shootings. Living while Black in America has always been risky.

War. What is it good for, absolutely nothing are the lyrics from a song entitled “War”, by Edwin Starr and it reached #1 in the music charts. Edwin Star recorded and released “War” in March 1970. The song is an anti-Vietnam-war statement. However, his message includes a broader meaning as it addresses a general need for harmony and global peace. Today, more than fifty years later, the song still protests the same global issues. So many innocent lives are lost because a leader wants control and power. So many so-called leaders of countries, large and small, remind me of the bullies that we all remember from school or our workplace.

Here is a list of books that I have read over the past 3 years, and several are still on my list to be completed. So far, some of my favourite books include:

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color-blindness, by Michelle Alexander.
  • Unequal, by Michael Eric Dyson (I am reading it now & it’s powerful)
  • American Whitelash, by Wesley Lowery
  • The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Finding Me, by Viola Davis
  • Raising Racists: The Socialization of White Children in the Jim Crow South, by Kristina DuRocher, PhD
  • The Fire Next Time and I Am Not Your Negro, by James Baldwin
  • Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson
  • So, You Want to Talk about Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  • The Quaking in America, by Resmaa Menakem
  • Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle, by Angela Davis

Each day when exploring my new neighbourhood, there is a feeling of happiness when seeing young children playing games with each other and laughing. It gives me hope that one day, hatred and racism will stop being taught to innocent children. Do you believe that it’s possible to live in a world without racism and discrimination? Not in my lifetime.

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Mikael Wagner

Mikael Wagner is a communications project manager with focus on health promotion, public relations , marketing and focus group facilitation.