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Local Voices: Defeating America’s Legacy of Racism

“We need to become drum majors for equality, justice and peace.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Some things never change, do they? Or, some things change slowly … but surely, don’t they? Here we are 50 years after the inner city riots in some of our major metropolitan communities, and 46 years after the Kerner Commission (Racial) Report, and some things never change … and some things change slowly, but surely …

Probably Drs. W.E.B. DuBois and Gunnar Myrdal said it best, “America’s greatest dilemma of the 20th Century is the social issue of race.” I might add that it is still America’s “greatest social dilemma” in the 21st Century.

Being a 73-year-old African-American male, I have experienced racism in all its forms and manifestations. It is evil and it kills the human spirit. For example, I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the 1940s and 1950s when African-Americans were not allowed to become law enforcement officers, firefighters, lawyers, judges, doctors, dentists, bankers, contractors, teachers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and other working professionals for the public at large. Even today, some of these realities are still self-evident. In too many communities and cities, not much has changed for many of America’s minorities.

From personal experience and observation, I know that “racism and its cohorts” are the “cause and curse” for some of what restricts and debilitates African-Americans and other minorities: unproductive citizens, deteriorating neighborhoods, insufficient public housing, substandard schools, high unemployment, low pay, inadequate health care, declining public safety, faltering affirmative action, punishing welfare reform, restrictive immigration/naturalization, and the list goes on. In short, racism is an “evil monster.” And, it needs to be aborted in the name of the “common good.” (Again, I say these are some of the effects of racism … because there are also other significant factors, realities and circumstances that negatively affect African-Americans and other minorities. Also, I am a firm believer in “self-help and that self-help begins in the home.”)

When allowed and tolerated, racism breeds hatred, violence, disharmony and disunity. America does not need any more of this debilitating and destructive behavior. As Americans we have a multitude of national and international problems that lie before us. We need to come up with answers for our dilemmas of economic poverty, political inequity, social deprivation, and the like. We cannot afford to allow the “evil of racism” to sidetrack us. This is a time for unity, fairness and accord – not disunity, dismay and disaccord. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would espouse, “We need to become drum majors for equality, justice and peace.”

Racism has always been used as a divisive mechanism to polarize Americans along social, economic and political lines. Therefore, America must acknowledge where she has gone awry when it comes to race relations and the like. Over the years, America has given an “appearance of law” even when the law was being broken in these matters. There has to be a profound awareness of “what went wrong” for things to ever “be made right.” And, until this happens, nothing much will ever substantively change.

America’s “legacy of racism” is one of the “biggest hurts” that can be perpetrated against anyone. It reminds me of the old saying: “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” Pure and simple, that is the terrible essence of racism and its effect upon others.

Together, we can defeat the “evil monster of racism” and all that it stands for. We need to bring about an eradication of racism whenever it has the audacity to raise up its ugly head. There is “something in it” for all of us. To remain the world’s leader and economic forerunner, we have to include all Americans with their diverse talents and skills. We must allow them to participate and contribute at their maximum capacity. Thusly, we can no longer allow racism to divide Americans along social, economic and political lines.

As Americans we can do this. All good and fair-minded Americans must join together to replace inept politicians, eliminate deleterious businesses, engender economic opportunity, and promote social justice for all of our citizens. All of this reminds me of a wonderful poem by Maya Angelou. It has such an uplifting and inspirational ring to it. As such, it gives hope and promise for overcoming our problems of racism/race relations. Poet Angelou says that there will come a time when: “Hope has conspired with the wind and blown away the demons (racism and discrimination) of despair.” I pray and wait for that “hope and wind.” They cannot come soon enough for me.

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John L. Horton is a resident of Norfolk and a frequent contributor to this newspaper.

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