Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ending racism

One of the most frequent objections that has been raised to the state sovereignty resolutions is that they are somehow racist. I have seen this objection in the media, heard it from Sen. Ray Miller in response to sponsor testimony for SCR 13, and have encountered it among African-American coworkers. For many people, the concept of state sovereignty evokes memories of the States' Rights movements that attempted to preserve racial segregation in the South prior to passage of the Civil Rights Act. I have already alluded to the peculiar and highly emotive meaning of "sovereignty" when associated with Mississippi history.

It is difficult for a white to discuss racial issues openly, because of a widespread assumption among blacks that whites have a genetic predisposition to insensitivity on the issue, something that certain radio talk show commentators seem to display to excess. Which leads to the conclusion that no white could possibly make a constructive contribution to the dialogue. Which makes impossible the resolution to the problem.

However, I suggest (with George Bernard Shaw) that all generalizations are untrue, including this one. The root of all racism (black and white) lies in overgeneralization. When Dr. King called on us to "judge others by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin," he was challenging us to overcome some assumptions that are hard-wired into our belief systems.

In May, I challenged Leonard Pitts, Jr., on his views about secession. Now, however, I want to support him in his warning (published in the Columbus Dispatch Aug. 8) that racism is a subject to be dealt with sensitively; not just by whites, but by blacks as well.

Mr. Pitts is rightly critical of those who use race in demagoguery, whether it was Glenn Beck's careless comment about President Obama having a "deep-seated hatred for white people," or the inflammatory statements of Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Mr. Pitts asks:

What wound in all American life is more raw than race? What is more likely than race to suddenly flare into conflagration? Our most ruinous war was about race. Our greatest social revolution was about race. We have seen a hundred riots and rebellions fueled by race. Race is a major component of our most vexing issues: health care, education, the environment, crime. It is our most profound and oldest regret, a tender spot on the American psyche.

I agree with him that what really matters are our collective hopes. Mr. Pitts, hopes, as I do,

that we will all someday evolve the courage, the compassion, and the inter-cultural trust to face the hard truths of race head on, and thereby validate that self-evident truth upon which the country was founded.

To get there will require us to get past our overgeneralizations about race. Sometimes this will require courage to go against ingrained stereotypes as Columbus City Council candidate Alicia Healey has by embracing libertarian ideals (third video here).

It will require us, in some instances, to rethink our politics; because these state sovereignty resolutions, and these demands for states' rights have nothing to do with race. They are to protect all of us in our right to do what we feel is best for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

One of the goals of state sovereignty is to begin reducing government to a human scale -- that is, one that is understandable to all of us, and manageable by those we elect. One that promotes equality of opportunity for all; and, at least in my opinion, will bring us closer to the kind of society Dr. King envisioned when he wanted us to be judged by the content of our character, and not the color of our skin.

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