I was watching the news recently and Pat Buchanan was debating Professor Eric Dyson, an African-American, about comments made by Attorney General Eric Holder who cited that we are "cowards" when it comes to race relations in America.
Instead of discussing the substance of Mr. Holder's statements and their implications for better race relationships, Buchanan became angry, defensive and focused on the word "cowards."
His reaction is very common among some white Americans regarding the issue of race. He resorted to the same old worn-out, invalid arguments by pointing out that those blacks who behave criminally or dysfunctionally justifies whites for not responding ethically and morally to the race issue.
The implication is this is a black problem only. This argument is often followed by the false assertion that no real problems about race exist in our "great nation," as evidenced by successful black stars and athletes. These arguments fail to account for the fact that every group of people has its shadow elements, and black stars and athletes make up a minute portion of the black population in America.
Neither argument is a valid excuse for failure to deal with moral, ethical and spiritual obligations when it comes to race. External legislation has aided in the healing of race relations, but the problem is so deeply entrenched it now resides in our cellular memory, which is consciously and unconsciously passed down from one generation to the next. This kind of situation requires deeper, spiritual solutions.
There is a pervasive myth in much of white America that the abolishment of slavery ended racist thinking and behavior. It is a compensatory belief that what has lessened in an overt racist system has in fact ended. Those who continue to hold to this belief prove that they've not given up the collective mindset, however conscious or unconscious, that they are a superior race and culture based on skin color alone. Having said that, I honor the millions of white Americans to whom this does not apply.
Without a doubt, discussing race and the institution of racism is not pleasant. However, not dialoguing about them in honest and sincere ways only serve to reinforce the anger, resentment, guilt, rage and denial associated with such evil.
Besides, the Creator God will not endlessly tolerate a mindset that holds that skin color affords some human beings rights and opportunities while denying the same to others. If we are willing to be honest about healing this problem, we would seek to understand that 400 years of systematic racism has done untold damage to the hearts and souls of both victims and perpetrators of this disease.
This is a shared problem, and just as we share the same problem we also share the internal solution. This desperately needed awareness has yet to occur on a collective scale in America.
If racial healing is to occur, both races must be willing to give up some secondary gains that keep the illusion of separation in place. For instance, some whites must stop blaming the victims of racism and take proactive measures to resolve their own guilt and denials about race. Racism is a system built on fear and survival, and it's impossible to project fear, hatred and hostility on someone without first feeling these negative forces within the self.
Equally as important, blacks must stop being victims and blaming whites for what their ancestors did. Blacks remain morally and ethically responsible in holding that segment of white America accountable for the continuing practice of racism, such as the recent cartoon with violent and racist undertones displayed by the New York Post. And blacks must continue to redefine themselves beyond racial stereotypes.
The attorney general is indeed right; we are cowards, blacks and whites, when it comes to having the courage and honesty in dealing with this issue. Until we resolve this matter, the ability of American citizens to engage in meaningful and productive dialogue to solve any of our problems will be greatly impeded, and in some cases gummed up completely.
There can be no honest dialogue about race when the violent and inflammatory rhetoric of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage are listened to and taken seriously. The universe is demanding that we take a close look at ourselves, individually and collectively, in order to see how we contribute to and perpetuate the problems we face.
Cowards are afraid to take such self inventory. We can and we must do better than this.
Harold Lott is a Gainesville resident; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.