Black, white and a lot of gray


To the Editor:

Among the many current fault lines that threaten to shake and divide our nation, is one which has existed for centurieS…racial relations.

How is it that we can all have shared the same history lessons in school and live through the same current events, yet view matters so differently? We use the term “racist” with damning scorn, but hesitate when we try to draw the exact line crossed when a person deserves that label.

I know that I am pure when watching a PBS documentary on slavery, but begin to draw contrary generalizations, tinged with caution, and distrust, when I watch the news. I often have to step back and ask myself, “Am I blind to skin color or blinded by it? Am I a racist or not or adrift somewhere in between?”

I think many of us are the same way, and our position on the “racist spectrum” ultimately depends on where on the racial history timeline we focus our attention. Let me explain.

It would take a pretty twisted person to find blame with Negroes when we wrested them unwillingly from their homes and claimed them as our property. The way we exploited, abused, and kept them uneducated for generations gains us no leniency points either. We saw a profit, we closed our eyes to their humanity.

It’s easy to place ourselves in their position then and, when we do, there’s likely not a racist in the land. But lose that critical genesis, ignore black rights, patience, and achievements, and then focus on any of the several dysfunctional, but newsworthy, aspects of black culture and you’re recruiting material for the KKK.

So what determines where we look? 

Predictably, education drives us back in time to find causes, to place or accept blame, although I don’t necessarily mean a formal education.

Squirrel hunting is what shaped my thinking. I’d park myself and my .22 under a tree and wait for the woods to settle down so the squirrels would start moving again. This gave me plenty of time to find reliable answers to all manner of my teenage questions.

What I discovered was that it takes real effort to approach the truth, and that I had to always keep one eye on myself to not quit thinking when I found a comfortable or popular answer. That was my education.

College never taught me anything more important, it just gave me new things to think about. Why do I mention this? Because it’s essential to unity and harmony in America that we remember how to talk to one another, but before that can be productive, we have to learn how to talk honestly with ourselves.

Racial fault lines run deep. The cruelest wounds from slavery and its aftermath have resisted healing, festering into street-smart cynicism and, often, self-destructive delinquency. Everyone likes to feel superior but we don’t always care to admit, especially to ourselves, what we’ve had to do to get there.

We use standards for others that we won’t impose on ourselves in today’s climate of moral decline. We’re afraid of each other through stereotypes, over matters we’d rather not talk about. As reasons go underground reasoning is left behind. The residual resentment, however, is there for exploitation…by both sides.

White guilt has been overworked by some, as humiliation has morphed over generations into relying on welfare programs and claiming unfair treatment for breaking the law. Race politics is a circus of self-serving deceit and Donald Trump is the ringmaster of our dark side.

Look at his frequent fanning of racial undercurrents and efforts to link the image of the Democratic Party to four outspoken, non-white Congresswomen. It’s hard to think straight in a world of spin.

So, time passes and covers its tracks while the straightforward injustice of slavery gets ever more warped into its consequences by distance, despair, ignorance, and political string pulling. 

Disturbingly, our once welcoming land of equality and opportunity grows further from its binding principles and the unity in our country’s name simply mocks us. We’ve created our own undoing and failed to see a solution because the fault lines that splinter our land are clearly identified as lines, but few seem willing to recognize their fault. 


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