As we approach the end of a calendar year, it’s always tempting to reflect upon the months before and see where we have been as a society. In a sea of division, I think we can all likely agree that 2020 is not the year to do that. After a year of pandemic and a contentious election, we’re still in the early stages of a cultural PTSD, and none of us want to revisit the causes just yet.
That was not all that happened in 2020 though. As a society, we experienced additional growing pains as, once again, race relations came to the forefront. In the midst of everything else, we found ourselves grappling with how the issue of race affects us and watched emotions explode during and because of acts of violence and riots.
Sadly, the issue of racial division is nothing new for our country. From the earliest days of colonization, African slaves arrived and were forced into the most menial roles as the eastern seaboard was built into the America we know.
The slavery of Africans and their descendants, which would survive until passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, truly is America’s original sin. The culture that existed at the time systemically dehumanized men and women based on no other fact than differences in skin pigmentation. As a country, we had the opportunity to resolve the issue when we broke away from Great Britain and wrote our own constitution. While the issue was discussed, sadly not only would our founding fathers fall short on offering the much-heralded equality, they made the matter even worse through the three-fifths Compromise.
As the Book of Exodus states, the sins of the fathers visit the generations to come. Ever since our country’s founding, each generation has found itself wrestling with racial issues. There have been high points such as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Missouri Compromise and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, among others. But the low points of history such as the Dred Scott decision, Jim Crow and a Civil War centered on the issue of whether states could grant the ability for one human to own another demonstrate that we had far to go, and still do.
As a Caucasian male, I understand that my experiences do not give me great insight into the lives of racial minorities. Growing up in rural Kentucky did not provide much either. In fact, in my high school graduating class, there were zero black students. I went on to Centre College which, at the time, was more than 95% white. I now live in a county that has less than a 6% black population. I’m keenly aware that not only has our government historically been overwhelmingly run by people who look like me, but that my interaction with people of color has been limited by circumstance. However, that does not absolve me and allow me to ignore the issue.
Recently, I read “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. It’s a blend of Kendi’s life story and policy discussions regarding racial issues. The book was published in 2019, but how could it ever be more appropriate than during 2020? Kendi’s main point is that it is not enough to not engage in racist actions yourself, but that to truly enact change, a person must be willing to call out racist behavior and policy when they see it. It’s a difficult proposition for those of us who prefer to live in polite society, but I see much merit in his argument.
However, before a person, regardless of their own racial identification, can get to that point, I think they must do some self-examination to find the racial thought in their own lives. Have you ever laughed at a racist joke? I have. Have you ever told one? I have done that too. Have you engaged in caricatures of people based on race? Yep. Have you made assumptions, either good or bad, based upon racial stereotypes? Guilty. I am not proud to admit any of that, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
Engaging in such behavior does not make one a bad person. In fact, I know that some of the finest people I know have done so. To make a religious parallel though, I was once told that Christians aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t strive to be. The same is true for those of us who want more racial harmony in our country.
We need to keep in mind that our Creator made each of us as individuals and not as a part of any subset of false division. We all bleed when pricked, we all laugh when tickled. If there is any good to come out of 2020, it is my hope that we have taken another small step on the flight to equality.
Tommy Druen is a resident of Scott County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.