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John L. Horton lives in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to the newspaper.
John L. Horton lives in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to the newspaper.
John L. Horton lives in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to the newspaper.

Local Voices

Overcoming Race and Racism In Today’s America

By John L. Horton

Some things never change, do they? Or, some things change slowly…but surely, don’t they? Here we are some 50 years after the inner city riots in some of our major metropolitan communities, and 51 years after the Kerner Commission (Racial) Report (1968), 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.

At times I see so much hatred, racism, anger, greed, selfishness and fear among our citizenry. So much is going on when it comes to racial distrust, social polarization and political divide. Accordingly, I decided that I could be a “spectator,” or I could be a “participant.” In choosing to be a “participant,” I identify with Robert Kennedy: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Being a 78-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, fear and violence. Further, it promotes demagoguery, 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.

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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.

In effect, both political parties are full of partisan gamesmanship and there appears to be no cease-fire in sight. However, it is time for us to come together, regardless of political party, and do what is best for America. At this critical time in history, our country “needs” us. She is challenging us to do our very best.

True, America is not without her “bruises, blemishes and blockages,” but she is still, by far, the best when it comes to freedom, opportunity and progress. In short, America is not perfect, but she is far better than her contemporaries are.

I firmly believe that most Americans want what is best for our fellow citizens and our country: fairness, opportunity, responsibility, education, respect, equality, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

If “we” work together, this can be accomplished. Our history, heritage and humanity demand and require this of us. We are all in this together. In this effort, we are one and we are the same. We must believe in ourselves…and in each other…if we fail…our America fails. And, in this circumstance, failure is not an option.

We are at the precipice of what could be…what can be. This is our opportunity to fulfill our aspirations, hopes, dreams, ambitions and potentialities. This is our chance to do “good” for all of us.

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

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