The first time I got to know many black people was when I was drafted into the army. There were many racial incidents.
In my first year I lived in an all white barracks. I remember one white GI talking about how much pleasure he got out of taking a baseball bat and smashing black kids’ heads in.
My second year was spent in Germany. I lived in an all black barracks, all black except for me. I remember the irony of laying in my bunk and hearing a black GI talking about how much pleasure he got out of taking a baseball bat and smashing white kids’ heads in. Whether either of them did it or if it was just talk I don’t know. But it clearly showed the attitudes that a lot of people of both colors had for each other.
I then spent 40 years living in West County, where blacks and whites seemed to get along. I forgot that underneath the veneer of politeness many of the old problems still remained.
Many white people are surprised at the problems Ferguson exposed. We naively thought the Civil Rights Act and a little time would solve those problems, but the videos we have seen, for example, John Crawford killed by the police while standing in Walmart talking on the phone, or Lavar Jones when he was pulled over for not having his seat belt on and was shot while doing exactly what the policeman told him to do; and the facts we learned, and the stories we heard, have denied us that illusion.
We cannot change a persons heart, each person must do that themselves, but we can change the institutions that cause and perpetuate many of our problems. It is white America that must make those changes. Not because whites owe blacks any thing, but because whites have the power and with power goes responsibility.
The courts determine the guilt or innocence of individual actions, but the public is responsible for how institutions function. So I am not interested in spending time blaming the police or other institutions, or endangering the police or “letting the criminal element take over.”
I have a white nephew who is a policeman in Georgia and a white sister-in-law who was assaulted a few weeks ago near Tower Grove park by a 6′ 2” black man. He was caught the next day. She is still trying to recover. I also have two bi-racial grandchildren. So yes, I know the problems are complicated, but if we wait for the perfect solution, nothing will be done.
The problems are not too big to solve. Two hundred years ago it was still acceptable to beat your wife. It was embarrassing if your wife acted so badly that you had to beat her, but it was a private matter that no one had the right to get involved in. While women demanded change, it was men who had to change their own perceptions of what was acceptable behavior.
Since WWII, America has gone from looking at Asian Americans as uncivilized barbarians who were legally denied U.S. Citizenship, to a race that is hard working, smart, and superior to whites in many ways. Asians didn’t change, it was white American’s perception of them that changed.
We have made a lot of progress in black and white race relations, but we need to complete the job.
Next Sunday at 3 PM at St. Louis University we will ask our our leaders to commit to specific actions that they will take to start solving these problems. The meeting is sponsored by Metropolitan Congregations United, an organization that the Ethical Society is a part of.
Some of our leaders are betting that if they wait a few more months the pressure will go away and it will be back to business as usual. Other leaders want to work on these problems, but are not sure how serious we, the public are.
We are asking you to occupy a chair at St. Louis University for 90 minutes. By doing that, you will tell our leaders that we want change and just as importantly, that if they try to make those changes we will support them.
So please put your name on the list downstairs of people who will attend next week and bring your friends and neighbors also.