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Tom Baxter: How do we change societal problems like racism? We start with friends, family
08292018 TOM BAXTER
Tom Baxter

On a day when President Trump has addressed the nation to condemn “racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” it might not seem appropriate to begin with Champ Bailey’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech on Saturday. 

But the former Georgia Bulldog great spoke about that very subject with expertise, as he put it. It’s something, he said, which black men “have more expertise in than any aspect of our lives.”

“I’m a firm believer that if you want to create change you better start with your friends and your family, so I’m starting here today,” Bailey said in the closing minutes of his speech.“The first thing people see when they look at me is not a Pro Football Hall of Famer or a husband or a father. They view me first as a black man.

“So on behalf of all the black men that I’ve mentioned tonight and many more out there who’ve had the same experiences that I’ve had in my lifetime, we say this to all of our white friends. When we tell you about our fears, please listen. When we tell you we’re afraid for our kids, please listen. When we tell you there are many challenges we face because of the color of our skin, please listen. And please do not get caught up in how the message is delivered.”

This is a black man who has succeeded in white America in a way few do. He’s worked closely and had friendships with white agents, coaches and teammates. He’s been cheered by mostly white throngs at Sanford and Mile High stadiums. When someone like this gets choked up talking about his fears for his kids, imagine the fear level among those who have been less fortunate in their encounters with white America.

Bailey was right, that real change involves a long and patient conversation. But the racially motivated shooting in El Paso Saturday, followed so shortly by a deranged shooter’s brief but deadly rampage in Dayton, made it incumbent on Trump to take some kind of decisive action, or to seem to.

“Do something! Do something!” a crowd in Ohio chanted at Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine when he spoke at a memorial service Sunday. What that something is, to different Americans, is the great knot of our politics.

Trump in his speech promised to defeat the “sinister ideologies” of racial hatred, which largely seems to mean authorizing the FBI to go after potentially violent white nationalist networks like the one on which the El Paso shooter posted a statement (“manifesto” is beginning to sound too grandiose for these recurring rants) before his murders.

The website 8chan, where the shooter allegedly posted, has already been shut down by its service provider, but Trump’s words on this subject seem at least as noteworthy as his grudging use at last of the word “white.” 

“The perils of the internet and social media cannot be ignored and will not be ignored,” Trump said. Critics will immediately point out the president’s near-constant tweets, but he knows the voters who cheer him on social media also fear the “perils” they can encounter online. 

Where this new-found concern might go, administratively and legislatively, is one of the big questions to arise from this speech.

In a pre-speech tweet, Trump floated the idea of a compromise involving gun sale background checks and immigration reform, but in his speech he voiced support only for the concept of red-flag laws that would allow guns to be confiscated from people considered to be dangerous. 

“Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger. Not the gun,” Trump said.

The latest round of mass shootings comes at a time when the National Rifle Association is reeling from internal problems, but it could not have been more pleased with Trump’s formulation of the problem.

“Evil,” “wicked,” “twisted monster” — there was a lot in Trump’s speech that was intended to distance the president from the perpetrators and quell the idea that his rhetoric helped to incite their acts. There wasn’t so much that seemed aimed at truly comprehending how some got so twisted. As Champ Bailey said, if you want real change, you better start with your friends and your family.

Tom Baxter is a veteran Georgia journalist who writes for The Saporta Report.

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