By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
Race remains the elephant in the room.
Dialogue on bigotry and prejudice in America is exhausting and, frankly, some people are sick and tired of talking about it. Surprisingly, that sentiment is expressed on both sides of the line.
There are Black people who feel that focusing on race is limiting for the very people it is purported to address; that the more African Americans see themselves as different, the more difficult it will be to acquire equal treatment.
There are White people who feel that it is a moot point, that everything that can be said has been said and hammering the issue only alienates those sympathetic to the oppressed and reinforces the ranks of the oppressors.
All kinds of theories surface. For example, there is a line in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” where Sidney Poitier chastises his father saying, “The problem is, you see yourself as a Black man. I see myself as a man.”
That probably passed the smell test on first sniff. Bring it a little closer, though, and it may start to stink. It presupposes that there is something inferior about claiming your Black identity. After all, no matter how the Poitier character sees himself, he too is undeniably “a Black man” – an identity he should not want to escape.
The assertion of manhood should not require disavowing ethnic identity.
You have NEVER heard someone with family roots in Sicily declare, I am Italian, I am a man; or one from the Holy Land insist, “I’m not Jewish, I am a man.” Or anyone of Irish heritage defensively shout, “I am a man;” or a man of German roots feel the need to assert, “I am a man.”
Let’s be transparent. A large mea-sure of that yearning for self-justification stems from a society in which the governing doctrines of the land initially cast you as only three fifths of a man. That’s a level of degradation and inhumanity that white brothers and sisters can’t begin to imagine.
Three hundred years later marching in Memphis, sanitation workers carried signs with huge lettering that read, “I Am a Man.” Fast forward 50 years and African Americans plead for at least a tepid acceptance of the concept that really never should have been debated with the claim, Black Lives Matter.
That’s why thinking men and women are hesitant to praise how far we have come. Even with social and economic strides, the sad fact is that the first African American president in history was also the most abused and disrespected. Couple that with the fact the nation voted as far opposite of that choice the next time around and the point is clear. Racism is alive and well in the United States. That’s not the question.
The burning question implies whether or not the issue will be pushed to the forefront of the nation’s dialogue or left to languish on an obscure moral back burner.
A national columnist wrote that commencement speakers on campuses across the nation appeared to be intentionally omitting any discussion of the new administration in Washington’s myriad flaws, inconsistencies, arrogance, contempt or incompetence.
Their rationale is that people are exhausted after a bitter campaign that stretched almost two years; never mind the glaring inadequacies and erosion of democracy occurring in the first four months of the presidency. “Change the subject,” these intellectual cowards propose. Look away from the house that is clearly on fire.
I believe there are and will always be enough people of all races committed enough not to allow discrimination and racial hatred to exist unchecked. There will always be those who refuse to let go of the compelling desire for a nation of fairness, equity, diversity, justice and inclusion.
Tactics and strategies by which to achieve such lofty pursuits will differ – even among like-minded people who share common goals. While there may be contrasting, even bitter dispute over what works best, timetables and determination of key players, the mission will be the bond that ties good Americans to unyielding resolve for a better society for all.
This is a message I felt compelled to convey even though it is not Black History Month, or Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday, or Juneteenth, or the Fourth of July or any other staged or seasonal reality to complement the concept. It should not require all that. The battle for dignity is ongoing. The stakes are high and the obstacles are increasing.
Ignored reality stymies change. We can’t afford to wallow in the mire crying over what we lost or were denied in the past. Our focus instead should be on our role as unrelenting advocates recognizing the serious urgency of NOW; embracing history as both legacy and motivation for a lifetime of tireless commitment to the struggle.
Racism is terminally ill. Speed its demise. But don’t just talk about it. Do something about it.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].