Dear Black America,
Please join my family and me for dinner at our house. Plan on sleeping over because I know we’ll have a great time and won’t want the evening to end. Oh, and bring your granddaughter, she’ll have fun playing with our own sweetie who is six and a half and a source of pure innocence and joy.
Forgive me for being presumptuous, but we would like to drop in on you and spend time at your house as well. Let’s make a point of planning that visit, too.
Regretfully, our country is a yawning chasm apart from that wistful interchange. And I think it’s an issue to confront for those of us who make up the older generation.
It’s been an easy cop-out to cite “institutional racism” as the source of the societal scourge that still plagues the nation, responding as if we are not involved personally, conveniently ignoring the reality that the institution is in fact, “us;” the total of many individuals joined together as one entity.
But I want to go to my maker with a clear conscience. Which leads me to think that maybe I’ve been less than totally committed to making things right.
Since post Civil War, laws to make segregation illegal were passed and then bypassed (if you have Netflix, download the eye-opening documentary “13th” to see how the amendment that freed the slaves morphed into Jim Crow and from there into incarceration for two million black ‘felons’ stripped of their right to vote).
Progress has been made, but we are not a society that celebrates diversity. We may ride the bus together front and back, but we rarely mingle one on one when we get to our stop.
What has awakened me to becoming more involved and prompted me to speak out in this post typically given over to prioritizing personal struggles over social issues, is the jaw-dropping assault on human rights put into play by the new President. It has really given me a jolt. I’ve awakened to the realization that ‘institutional racism’ exists only because personal bigotry exists!
Just as we strive to clear the air with estranged sons and daughters before it’s too late, our amends for the sins of slavery are part of the process of getting complete with the wounds of the past, not only the ones inflicted and initiated but the ones we allowed to take place as benign non-participants.
Our nation is addicted to racism. And we need a 12-step program that starts with that reality. We’ll call it Racism Anonymous and emphasize step eight, which asks that we make a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all. Amends go past apologies; they acknowledge our role in the event and give us backbone to take personal responsibility for allowing what has been routine practice to go on unstopped.
The damage done in the past can’t be fictionalized. But it can be acknowledged. And that is the first payment of the reparations that must be made for the grotesque sin of slavery. It’s not about writing a check. The contribution comes from making a personal commitment to righting a wrong.
We cheat death by living an authentic, spiritual life. Taking that path behooves us to review our role, or non-role, in creating the America we want, a country where discrimination based on color is a horrible wrong that must be made right. Which pushes the problem nose to nose for us oldsters for whom time is running out. Before the end comes our errors of omission as well as commission must be acknowledged.
Just as I confront the whack-a-mole lapses of the past that keep popping up and bedeviling me I want to acknowledge my indifference to the existence of racism, and to do something about righting the wrong before I turn to dust.
That is my reparation: acknowledging a wrong for which I take responsibility and working in whatever way I can to correct the harm and hurt it has caused. It is a task all of us must undertake lest racism remain as the great, ineradicable stain on the integrity of our nation.
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