Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

Just Do the Right Thing

The election of a black president is
not to say we have vanquished
American racism

Beware of thinking this is a new day in race relations. It is and it isn’t. For many young people, black and white, the civil rights movement is ancient history; the rest of us remember vividly segregated schools and separate drinking fountains. Even today, voting irregularities reveal disenfranchisement by new and insidious forms of discrimination.

Yes, America made Cosby, Oprah, Denzel, countless athletes and other black celebrities their entertainment darlings, and hip hop stars are setting popular standards in style and music. Above and below the old Mason-Dixon line hundreds of black mayors, congresspersons and governors have been elected.

Be not deceived. Racism is a deep and insidious sickness of the human spirit. Unchecked, it is obvious; checked, it is subtle, and found where least expected–sometimes in our hearts, which is important to understand.

In 1851, Boston’s Rev. Theodore Parker already was known for transporting runaway slaves, harboring them in his church, re-marrying them as free people, and warned that he would suffer no marshals to enter his parsonage to take back slaves to Southern plantations. He wrote his sermons with a loaded pistol nearby to show that he meant what he said. What put a civilized northern American city at such extremes?

Slaves soon were freed but racism stayed; it merely changed to what it could get away with. As late as 1919, Southern newspapers reviewed lynchings the way movies and concerts are today: one was deplored as amateurish; another deemed “good” and “orderly.” Southern women who organized “for the Prevention of Lunching” failed to get support from Baptist and Methodist churches.

Blacks were forced out of Atlanta in the Year of Our Lord 1912 after two were merely accused of raping a white woman. When compensation was sought in 1987 for those who lost property in 1912, the 25,000 Americans nationwide who came in support were met by jeers and bottles from white citizens.

One of the first Civil Rights martyrs was Medgar Evers of Mississippi. When he came home late from an NAACP meeting in 1963 a bullet from a deer rifle hit him in the back, exploded from his chest and through the living room window before lodging in the kitchen refrigerator. The plaintive cries of his children in the midnight are sounds no moral person can refuse to  hear,     regardless of the passing of years.

But the violence would spread north. Young whites who beat and chased three blacks in Howard Beach, NY in 1986, causing one victim to run onto a highway where he was killed by a car, were said by white residents not to be “bad” boys, merely up to a “prank” and blameless, given that their victim had “endangered himself” by attempting to escape them. We forget too that King couldn’t always count on the Kennedys and turned to leftover Eisenhower judges and liberal Republicans like Rockefeller for support, but he had to dodge J. Edgar Hoover, who used the FBI to ruin him at every turn.

By calling all Americans to justice, and telling black followers they were there “first and foremost as American citizens…to apply their citizenship to its fullness”–and for their “love for democracy,” King’s movement became an American cause, and racism a national, not merely a black, problem.

Author May Sarton wrote after his death, “Now we have buried the face we never knew…silenced the voice we never heard”; and that each of us “must awake, inflamed with the inexorable truth…with acts of caring and fierce calm.”

Has anything really changed? Has racism? Campuses once scenes of civil rights activism now have increases in racial incidents. Name-calling and other conflicts worsen in high schools across the nation. Discrimination in housing continues decades after the Fair Housing Act; no longer told that skin color disqualifies them, blacks are advised that apartments are not available, or quoted higher rents and security deposits than whites.

When we let our society backslide, we do shame to America, to King and to the Civil Rights movement.  Much reform is focused on schools, for once a belief is formed, it is hard to change, and so it is with racism. We must all do the right thing. Educators, religion and the home need to stand for the right thing.

I jogged a local high school track as a class arrived for exercise. Among all those who walked and chatted together, no one accompanied or spoke to the sole black girl; adult advisors seemed unaware. What do I not know that would keep me from saying that the beginning of race relations is just that subtle? Denial of responsibility is a typical reaction, and moral citizens should make necessary admissions, so that healing and transformation may take place.

It all begs the question: Are we where we ought to be in regard to race?

If not, then we must be ready always to do the right thing.

One Response to “Just Do the Right Thing”

  1. I am always shocked how we treat others of a different race because I too have lived all over and have learned we all want the same thing: a secure life for our children, the love of others, a roof over our heads and peace.
    Congratulations to you for quitting the church that was filled with hate. It must have been hate. Years ago I became an agnostic and am strong in my belief, but part of my reasoning was watching the behavior of Christians. If you believe in God, you must believe he created us all.

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