The Color of Character

What’s To Discuss?

pointing fingers

The Cries of Racism Reach a Crescendo

If you were to do some sort of comparative search on Google, you would find that in the past few years, talk of racism has dominated much of America’s written, visible, and audio space – more than in any time since the 1960s. I can’t pinpoint the point of inflection, but let’s consider the past four years.  It used to be that with the exception of a smattering of town criers from the left and right, most of us assumed that as a people, Americans were heading in the right direction; the one that would lead to racial equality.  For some, that meant equality of opportunity. For the more demanding, and therefore, the more likely to be disappointed it meant equality of outcome.

I’ve Lost Track of Today’s Villain

On occasion an event would simultaneously grab the attention of all of us, causing us to briefly self-examine, and ultimately determine that it was a one-off. A speed bump. Nothing more. Some rogues in one city’s police department abusing their power. A lunatic with a grudge left over from Jim Crow. Then we would shake off whatever it was, and carry on undeterred from our daily national life.

No more. We have been made aware of so many of those kinds of events that used to grab our attention – the ones that caused us to remember the very names of the victims or the perpetrators (remember Rodney King?), or the cities where they occurred, that our ability to process them is in danger of a short circuit. The names and locations are running together. Was it Baltimore, Orlando, Houston, Chicago, Ferguson, or somewhere else? Was it a hate crime, terrorism or something else? Was the victim black, white, a police officer, an immigrant? Was it a gun, a bomb, or a beating? A mass killing or a single death? Were the accused exonerated or guilty? Do we have faith in the law? What’s going on here? Are we still headed in the “right” direction? Are we as a nation going to be seen, as President Obama likes to say, on the right side of history?

I Believed in Dr. King’s Vision and Hoped it Would Motivate His Followers

Frustration and anger drove me to write The Color of Character. The notion of one’s character, and taking responsibility for one’s own life fell into disfavor. The state of permanent victimhood took root and grew explosively into an industry for some, and stymied the progress of black America. As a child in a liberal, well-funded, integrated school in 1970 I witnessed the stirrings of this point of view, and the disastrous, albeit well-meaning response to it. I saw the dimming of the belief that if each of us were given equal opportunities for education, employment, and housing, and looked within ourselves for the wherewithal to achieve success, we could all better ourselves. That’s what Americans always did. There is no denying that from the beginning there were those that were born with a better starting position. Most certainly the ones farthest back were black Americans. So to make sure that they had equal opportunity, the government – that is we the people – set up the laws and programs to provide blacks a step up to a better starting position.

So what happened? Were we at all successful? Based on the talk of racism today, we are mired in a permanent state of original sin from which there is no recovery. Notice my use of the word “talk” as opposed to dialogue. I sadly concede that there is no dialogue, only accusatory shouting, judging, name-calling, self-righteous, close-mindedness, and self obsession. And it is intensifying exponentially since the presidential election. I wrote a novel, and have written this blog as a plea to come together, untethered with judgments or accusations, with open minds and ears, to discuss what ails us, to see all sides, and then figure out which steps will help us succeed, so we can take them together.

Shut Up and Do Something

It’s not going to work. I’m not surprised. It was a lofty ideal, and I was naive. My bully pulpit is tiny. Maybe a handful of people read me. But even if it were larger, I don’t think I could bring two parties together that already believe they have the answers. The one person who was in a position to drive that dialogue, but didn’t, was President Obama. I’m profoundly disappointed. Even on this point, the blame will be fixed by one side or the other for what can be perceived as both his effort or his lack thereof, and the good or the harm he did. Choose your side.

So what’s to discuss? I’ve decided to redirect my efforts to the doers, and not the talkers. Ta Nahesi Coates won a National Book Award for telling us that white America is a lost cause, and that black America will never achieve equality. Wow. That leaves little to aspire to. I’d call him a talker; not open to discussion. He has done pretty well for himself. Why not share his personal formula for success and offer it to those who need it? The professors at our colleges and universities, and student organizations condemn the greatest social experiment in the history of humanity as a dangerous world, and a dismal failure, requiring safe spaces, as they call for some sort of new, as yet undefined order, while they ignore or remain ignorant of the successes and lessons of the past. They are locked in a mindset of loss and pessimism, with minds sealed and ears closed to grant entry to the slightest wisp of understanding or clarity. Why not come down from their towers, and out of their safe spaces, and reach across the divide with open arms, hearts, ears, and minds? But they’re talkers and not open to discussion.

By definition, as a blogger, I guess I’m a talker too, but I’d like to focus my talks on the doers, as I did a few weeks ago in bringing Tamar Manasseh to your attention. There are millions like her, who go about doing something, big or small – but mostly small – to make the world a better place for everyone regardless of color. You can’t underestimate that ripple effect. In one day, they accomplish more towards healing our divides than all the usual talkers and pundits have done in the past four years, remaining hunkered down, and digging in deeper to find white racists or black predators on every corner. What good can they do in their bunkers of self-righteousness? “Trumps election proves America is racist.” “Black crime proves they are beyond help.” Blah, blah, blah. Look around. You won’t have to look far to prove yourself wrong. Stop talking. Do something constructive.





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