The Color of Character

Imagine the View From the Other Side

People accusing each otherIn writing The Color of Character, I tried to show how race relations are not so black and white. Certainly, the original sin of racism – of one race believing itself to be superior to another –  lies squarely on the backs of the white race. But the way to progress on the march towards equality involves some soul searching and actions on both sides of the relationship. I have said many times, that you will not make a point or resolve a conflict by simply shouting down anyone with a different point of view. You will only silence them, creating anger and resentment – and even real bigotry – not a feeling of superiority, but a dislike for the other, that was not there before.

In 1970 the tone of the civil rights movement had morphed from the peaceful protests of Dr. King, to an angry and sometimes violent approach to change. This is reflected in Glen’s story when his elementary school friendships with black classmates were tested and often fell apart in junior high school; a result of external forces acting on the black student body. Black students acted out angrily and often violently at their white peers, and rebelled against the demands of the classroom in their high level school district.

The black students had complete and equal access to all the benefits of the school district. They had an administration and teachers who wanted them to succeed. And they had white classmates who came from progressive homes with no racist histories. In fact, many of the families were at the forefront of efforts at integration and the fight for social justice. Instead of advancing themselves, many of these angry black children, perhaps from angry families, claimed to be victims of an inherently racist system, and demanded various sorts of concessions.

In Glen’s story, this black anger, violence, and accusations of racism, when none were called for, not surprisingly, slowed or even stopped the local progression towards achieving the goals of the civil rights movement. Instead of keeping whites alongside of blacks in the march to equality, many were driven away. There was fear for the safety of the children. There was dismay at the lowering of standards of behavior and levels of learning, which was viewed as an accommodation to black families. There was resentment in being asked to pay a price for an offense that the white families felt they had not committed. And there was concern that the increasingly negative view of the local school system, a result of rising violence and crime, would destroy the modest equity that the white families had in their homes – many who were first time homeowners.

Almost a half-century has passed, and the same tactics are being played out with the same predictable effects. Day after day there is a concentrated focus via social media and mass media, that America is inherently racist and perhaps beyond repair. Many whites do not wish to live with, attend school or cultural events, or otherwise engage with blacks – and vice versa! Is it blatant racism? On the part of many whites with the less “correct” point of view, based on whatever airtime or editorial space they are given, it appears that rather than racism, it is more likely that just as in 1970, they fear for the safety of themselves and their children, as the rate of violent crime committed by blacks exceeds their representation in the population, particularly in our cities. They see teachers afraid to teach, and schools turned into gang war zones. They resent being called out for, and paying a price for heinous crimes they feel they have not committed against blacks. They see an unnerving level of black on black murder. They consider the greatest impediment to black progress to be the attitude of victimhood, which keeps blacks focused on making demands outside of their own communities rather than making any demands or placing any expectations on themselves. And they are frustrated that they cannot give voice to any of this.

The combined effect of these sad realities could certainly turn out real bigots. I saw it. I know some of them. By writing today’s blog, I am sure to hear that I have aligned myself with the ugly, bigoted white mobs that hope to see the South rise again. No one will see that I, like many others, am wondering why both sides don’t look within as well as across the divide for answers. But my way of seeing the current state of race relations is not permitted in polite society, because it turns a mirror onto the accusers who must remain blameless victims, or else the only currently acceptable narrative will fall apart – or at least show some cracks. Would that really be so bad?

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