One of the more flattering (and humbling) aspects of being a columnist is that readers will respond to you, often with thought-provoking comments. My column “Reckoning with racism,” received one such response. The reader said, “I fully agree, as a 75-year-old white son of the South, that it is time for change, but your article would have added real value if you had specified the changes you are advocating. What specific changes do you seek?”
I’ve thought about that comment quite a bit and, while I would never posit myself as an authority, I do have one proposal. I must begin by saying that white people initiated the racial problems when they first brought Africans to this nation in 1619. They have exacerbated and compounded it shamefully through the centuries. African Americans didn’t create the inequities, inequalities and injustices, and they alone can’t fix them. That is not to say they cannot and should not be a big part of solutions, but white people must own the problems and make major strides toward bringing about racial healing.
Some have tried to pivot current racial tensions to discussions about the violence, looting and destruction that we’ve seen in some protests. Nobody condones these actions, especially most of the Blacks with whom I’ve talked, but let’s recognize these comments for what they are: attempts to distract from the real issue of systemic racism. That said, let me suggest that if you had been hearing leaders talk about making things better for decades upon decades, with little real progress, you might be frustrated too. Maybe even angry.
North Carolina has had any number of forums, study commissions, proclamations and even laws enacted, but they’ve done little to bring about real racial healing. In reading about what happened after Apartheid in South Africa, I believe their approach could help us.
Under the leadership of Bishop Desmond Tutu, and with the sanctioning of the country’s government, South Africa embarked on a process called “Truth and Reconciliation.” It began by getting what the Bible describes as “righteous” people, a committee of moral and virtuous people of goodwill who honestly desired equality and justice. Such a group must include men and women of all races, ages, geographic and political backgrounds and economic stations.
This commission of open-minded citizens would invite a broad cross-section of people, to include Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics and other races, to come and speak their truths about injustices, inequities, prejudices and social conditions. One of the unquestionable problems with race relations is that we have been unwilling or unable to either speak or listen to one another’s truths. And not just to listen, but to truly hear what is being spoken. Hearing, without responding, requires great patience and willingness to hear uncomfortable positions.
Next is reconciliation, an acknowledgement of wrongdoings and injustices done. If people of goodwill have the overarching desire for better race relations, there must be steps taken to make amends or put right the injustices and injuries. What is needed? How can they be implemented and over what time period? Are there benchmarks we can measure to see if this plan is working?
South Africa didn’t achieve all the goals they desired; they are still working to improve race relations. But through truth and reconciliation they greatly improved relationships. Let’s not dismiss this approach because it is not a “magic bullet.” This is a process that could work in North Carolina also.
Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina state treasurer and is creator/host of “N.C. SPIN,” a weekly, statewide television discussion of N.C. issues that airs on UNC-TV main channel Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 12:30 p.m. and UNC North Carolina Channel on Fridays at 10 p.m, Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.
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