Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Post-racial America? Not quite.
Although the JFP frequently encounters the attitude (in website comments and letters to the editor; plus the occasional sidewalk confrontation) that we should be "over" or "past" or otherwise beyond the need for dialogue when it comes to issues of race and ethnicity in America, a host of events that are happening right here and now—in Jackson, in Mississippi, in the second term of the Obama administration—suggest we still have a ways to go.
Just this week, someone with access to the campus of the University of Mississippi decided to place a noose around the neck of a statue of James Meredith, the first African American admitted to the university back in 1962. The purpose of this act could only have been to send a hateful message.
This came on the heels of the trial of a white man in Florida who shot into a car full of black teens, killing one, because they were playing loud music and showing him disrespect. Locally, the JFP and readers are still struggling with the politics and policies that allowed a homeowner to avoid any scrutiny from police or the Hinds County district attorney after shooting an unarmed youth for breaking into his pickup truck—and what that incident says not only about "castle doctrine" laws but about the complex dynamics of black-on-black crime in Jackson and elsewhere.
A photo by JFP photographer Trip Burns (jfp.ms/museums) went viral a few months ago—one that showed Gov. Phil Bryant and Myrlie Evers-Williams at the dedication ceremony of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum juxtaposed with the Mississippi flag that still incorporates the Confederate battle cross in its design.
The issues are complex, and they're emotional, and they're steeped in history and opinions and judgments and what our parents taught us, for better or worse.
And that's why it's so important to keep talking about them.
People who go through structured discussions that focus on race and culture in America—those offers by groups such as Jackson 2000 (jackson2000.org) or the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation (winterinstitute.org)—frequently report that it can dramatically change their lives. They feel empowered to have important discussions and build friendships they thought they'd never have.
The people who tend to benefit the most from such dialogue happen to be the people who think they already have it figured out. If you're one of those people—or anyone who would like to reflect more on what race and ethnicity mean in today's America—we suggest you consider Black History Month an opportunity to get more involved in the dialogue. How? Join Jackson 2000, engage on the JFP site, take part in Freedom Summer events this year. The Margaret Walker Alexander Center and the Smith Robertson Museum are great places to start. You can also read our GOOD Ideas issue on race dialogue at jfp.ms/race_dialogue.
Leave the comfort of your easy chair and your opinions and explore someone else's reality. It may change you—the first step in changing everything.