Just Do Your Part

A complaint about a mistress’s associations with black people, our only sitting black Supreme Court justice being referred to as an “Uncle Tom,” and a banana being thrown at a black soccer player. All of these events occurred within the same week this past summer. And these are just the overt acts of racism that were publicized.

I don’t know about you, but I am growing increasingly disgusted with racism. Not just in its overt forms, but in its covert forms. Not just in its direct forms, but in its reverse forms.

Yes, ours is a nation with a marred (even scarred) racial history. We tolerated slavery during our nation’s early years. Some might say that our forefathers willfully ignored it. And so, it took a bloody civil war and a brave president to eradicate it. Nonetheless, its insidious predecessor, racism, remained.

Our nation has battled racism on several fronts. We have fought it judicially – striking down the fallacious “separate but equal” laws of the old south. We have fought it legislatively – passing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.   We have fought it educationally – integrating (many times forcefully) our schools. Yet, as we witnessed so clearly this summer, it remains.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe these efforts have done much. Our nation has made great strides in our battle against racism. Think about it. We have racial minorities on the Supreme Court. We have a black man as our Attorney General. We have seen a black man and a black woman serve as Secretary of State. My goodness, we elected a black man as President of the United States. Not just once, but twice!

So why, then, do we continue to witness such ugly acts of racism? Why, then, do we still hear grotesque racial epithets? Why the seeming insistence to immediately ascribe racial motive? Honestly, I don’t know the answer to these questions. Nor am I so arrogant as to think I have a wide-ranging, all-encompassing solution that will change the heart and minds of the nation. What I do think we can do to stem the tide of racism, or even roll it back, is to assume some personal responsibility.

As with so many other issues this country has faced over the past several years, many of us have yielded the fight against racism to various governmental institutions – legislative, judicial, and educational. We have also allowed grievance charlatans to control the conversation. This must stop. Yes, our government institutions have performed admirably (as outlined above), but their influence is limited (and don’t get me started on the charlatans). It’s time that we as individuals assume a role. It’s time that we take control of the conversation, at least amongst our families and amongst our friends.

Attitudes about race begin in the home. We as parents must take the lead in teaching our children that racism is ugly, that racism is foolish, and that it is immoral and intolerable. We cannot shy away from addressing racism with our children. We must be their major influencers on this issue. But our teaching cannot be in word only. It must also be in deed.

I would suggest that one place to begin is to cease the incessant use of racial (albeit politically correct) titles when we talk to, or about, persons of another race. Yes, there are times when such references are necessary. But many times people use these titles as a ruse. They think it somehow evinces an enlightened attitude. Personally, I find the overuse of these titles both embarrassing and insulting. Here’s the reality I have tried to exemplify for my children: men are men, women are women, boys are boys, and girls are girls, regardless of skin tone or ethnic heritage.  Use acceptable racial titles only when absolutely necessary.

We can also treat people of different races with the respect they deserve. And we can demand that our children do the same. Notice, I said “with the respect they deserve.” We don’t need to tolerate belligerent, disrespectful behavior from anyone – regardless of race. We shouldn’t feign respect for disrespectful people merely because of their race. That, too, in my opinion, is racism. For it is fear based solely on race.

Like it or not, true friendship carries responsibility. We can influence our friends’ attitudes about race; we can be influenced by our friends’ attitudes about race. If a friend uses a racial epithet, or mistreats another person for no other reason than they are of another race, and we stand idly by, we are just as culpable as our friend. We may as well have uttered the word ourselves. We may as well have mistreated the person ourselves.

If we will just let our friends know that we are truly offended, or even disgusted, by their words or actions, we can perhaps influence them from repeating the same words or committing the same act. Sure, there’s a chance that we won’t influence them; that they will reject our feedback. So be it. We have done our part. If they continue with their racist words or behavior, we must then ask ourselves if we truly want them to be our friend.

Just over fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King shared his dream, that one day people would be judged by the content of their character, and not by their skin color. Sadly, it appears that many people want Dr. King’s dream to remain just that, a dream. To them, Dr. King’s dream is more like a nightmare.

I don’t want to be counted among those people. I don’t want my family to be counted among those people. I don’t want my friends to be counted among those people. Do you? Then let’s do what we can, within our own small spheres of influence, to turn that dream into reality.

Seriously, let’s just do our part.

2 thoughts on “Just Do Your Part

  1. michael shew

    Paul, this is really good stuff. I started to read it earlier in the week but wanted more time to digest it. I don’t really disagree (how many times has that happened when you and I debate politics or social issues) with anything you said or any of your prescriptions for change. My only quibble, and it is just a quibble, is that America (at least in the pre-Civil War era) didn’t just tolerate slavery, it embraced slavery. Indeed, it need slavery. Said another way, America could not have existed in its present form had it not been built by slave labor. Slavery — the violent, non-consensual subjugation of another person’s labor, the buying and selling of humans, the destruction of family units — was an intractable element of the growth of the colonies and the early states.

    This past summer I took the time to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ excellent essay, “The Case for Reparations.” You can find it here. http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631/. I think the title is bit misleading in that the article is not necessarily an argument in favor of distributing financial resources to the descendents of slaves, per se, but instead is a sweeping explication for how we got here and how insidious racism is. I think you owe it to yourself to read it carefully. It really opened my eyes.

    The article puts to rest the arguments made by those who complain about “black on black violence”, or who wonder why “black culture” is violent. Mr. Coates’ other writings are also a real treat.

    I hope you read the article.

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