Colson: Say it often and loudly, racism still thrives
Seems like every week we in this country find ourselves faced with yet another orgy of violence attributable to racist elements in our society, and every time it happens we go through the same mystifying ritual of asking “why’d this happen?” and “what can we do to prevent the next one?”
I write at this moment about the latest such tragedy, the recent killing of nine churchgoers by a rampaging lunatic in Charleston, South Carolina.
Well, despite the reluctance of certain Republican politicians to admit this, I feel it needs to be said over and over, louder and louder: We are still a nation locked in the grip of racist beliefs and traditions, where there are enough guns floating around that any nutball with a racist grudge can get his (it’s usually a man) hands on one at any time and start shooting.
As for the second question, that’s trickier.
We can start to reduce the number and availability of guns, of course, but racism and gun rights seem to travel together down the tangled roadmap of our national psyche.
We all know that a threat against gun ownership is the surest, quickest way to raise a political lynch mob, even in states where racism and gun violence have merged in a tragic confluence of one sort or another.
I know, what about getting rid of racism?
Oh, right, we fought a war supposedly based on that premise, a war that ended 150 years ago and that saw the formal, legal end of slavery in the United States and the theoretical inclusion of black citizens in the phrase, “all men are created equal” that appears in a musty old document known as the U.S. Constitution.
Unfortunately, the noble ideals about that new inclusiveness didn’t stick.
For whatever reason you’d like to cite, the Civil War did not quite get the job done when it comes to changing this nation’s worst internal attribute — racism and all its ramifications — despite more than 750,000 dead and the riving of an entire nation and its sense of self.
So, now what?
We insist, as a nation, that we have to keep our guns nearby, locked and loaded.
We persist, as a nation, in talking one way — that whole racial-equality thing — but acting just the opposite in the most surprising places and ways, not just in the regional home of the usual suspects, the South.
And before my Southern friends start sending me hate mail, I note that it was just over a half-century ago, in 1963, that four black little girls were killed when a black church was bombed by racists in Birmingham, Alabama.
Kind of puts some really evil brackets at each end of the intervening decades, don’t you think?
It was just a couple of years after that, in 1966, that my parents moved me, my brother and sister to the border state of Maryland.
Most people think of Maryland as a Northern state during the Civil War, but they’re wrong. The Mason-Dixon line followed the state’s northern border, while the population followed the Confederacy.
And we had the proof in a small suburb of Washington, D.C., that my family moved to, called Greenbelt. A short while before we arrived, they held their last Ku Klux Klan parade through an area known as The Center, where the stores, theater and bowling alley were located.
Oh, and the town’s police station was just around a corner from the parade route, and I heard at the time that it was likely that some of the town’s cops took part in the parade.
Even though I missed the KKK parade, I saw the signs of rampant racism in rural areas, where blacks even in the 1960s still could not use the same public restrooms or drinking fountains as whites, and where cafeterias were segregated by habit and local custom, if not by laws or signs.
On the surface, things may look a little better there these days, since Greenbelt and other nearby towns are now largely populated by black residents.
But that, too, is a further sign of racism, in the form of the creation of new ghettos inhabited by blacks pushed out of their former digs in Washington, D.C., large parts of which are being “gentrified” by whites who had once fled to the suburbs but are moving back.
It’s all still going on, despite the laws and the courts and the supposed enlightenment of our culture as “minorities” grow in number compared to a shrinking white populace.
According to the CNN website, the accused killer, Dylann Roof of Lexington, S.C., confessed to the shooting and said he did it to start a race war.
According to a talk show on National Public Radio, the judge who is presiding over the case spoke more sympathetically about Roof’s family at a court hearing than he did about the families of the victims.
In Texas, a firefighter lost his job as a volunteer when he posted on Facebook that Roof deserves praise for the act he is accused of.
And on it goes.
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