SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — It’s going to take a lot of courageous conversations to solve issues centered on America’s race relations. Blacks and whites still wrestle with a peaceful co-existence and mutual acceptance. Looking at our history, race has been at the center of some of this country’s most pivotal moments.
From the time of America’s earliest settlements until deep into the 20th century, blacks were treated as property, bought and sold like livestock. Freedom came after the Civil War but the freedom they enjoyed was not the same as white Americans. Blacks continued to live in separate societies, their children attended separate schools.
Jim Crow laws soon mandated the segregation of schools, public transportation, restrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants and the military branches. Separate but equal was really separate and unequal. It wasn’t until 1954, just 60 years ago, when the high court ordered schools to be integrated.
Landmark legislation in the 1960’s outlawed Jim Crow laws and barriers to voting. Violence soon characterized the non-violent efforts of the civil rights movement in many historic confrontations-Central High in Little rock, the 16th Street church bombing in Birmingham, bloody Sunday in Selma.
“The kind of stark evil represented in the white faces that pejoratively and angrily lashed out a black, I saw that as pure evil. I would say-crassly-coming from the pit of hell, you can’t hope to have a nation that can thrive with that sort of darkness” says Bryon Klaus, Assemblies of God.
The fight against discrimination moved from the streets to the courtrooms. Soon, righting the wrongs of the past would fall on America’s baby boomers. Court ordered busing meant children couldn’t go to their neighborhood schools any more. They were bused across town or even into nearby county schools to bring racial balance.
Affirmative action meant minorities were given preference for jobs over whites. Racial quotas became the norm for employment, college applications and scholarships. But in the late 1970’s and 1080’s there was a backlash. Courts began to back away from these controversial remedies, and the massive divide over race relations seemed bigger than ever.
For instance, the 1992 Los Angeles riots erupted when white L.A.P.D officers were acquitted for the beating of Rodney King. The not-guilty verdict of O.J. Simpson divided our country
More recently, the shooting in Ferguson of a black teenager by a white police officer. The choke-hold death of a black man by a white New York City police officer
“Because we don’t talk to one another, because we live in the present moment without remember the legacies of the past, we repeat the mistakes. We act as if this is a solved problem, this is not a solved problem” says Klaus.
“There’s such a climate of people yelling at each other, some people say it might have started with the sports shows, the talk shows, the talking heads, they want to argue, they want to blast each other, say negative things as opposed to engage in intelligent conversation” says Wes Pratt, MSU Equal Opportunity Officer.
“I’m surrounded by people in the community who were not only part of that but who live through that on both sides of those issues and still have a lot of heartburn over it and can’t let it go” says Paul Williams, Springfield Police Chief.
“There is no doubt that events like Ferguson, remind us that we have unfinished business” says Pratt.
“Our kids, I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. Because they are not growing up in an environment of racial divide and black and white, they see some of these things and say what on earth is going on, how come you people act that way” says Williams.
“We’ve all got friends and relatives, when they say something derogatory about someone that’s a different racial or ethnic background or religious background, but we won’t challenge them on it. We sort of go along to get along” says Pratt.
“So many of them have such a closed mind that there’s not much you can say to them without starting a fight. It’s something they have to develop. They have to grow out of their own families and their own homes” says Dorsey Levell, Former Exec. Director, Council of Churches.
“That kind of evil, that kind of hatred, cannot sustain a civil society” says Klaus.
“If I really get to know you I’m going to get to know your pain, your anguish, your weaknesses, your frailties, your vulnerability. A lot of people don’t like to deal with that. If I show you who I really am, you’ve got to accept me. And sometimes it’s difficult for me to vulnerable enough for you to be vulnerable enough to share who you are because it makes us nervous to talk about race, our difference, and that’s the challenge” says Pratt.
“Sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is. We can have all the conversations in the world but if there are no action plans coming out of these conversations then it’s going to be business as usual” says Cheryl Clay, President, Springfield NAACP.
“Our world needs to have these kinds of civil discussions, our community needs this. We can’t live in unrest, we can’t pass this on to subsequent generations” says Klaus.
We will continue these “Courageous Conversations” on KOLR10 News next week. We will be focusing on education, the role of the church and the business community, and how social media shapes our biases.