To avoid another Ferguson, we must 'be real' with one another

Protesters stand on a street in Ferguson, Mo. Racial tensions have run high in in the predominantly black city, following the shooting death by police of Michael Brown, 18, an unarmed black man. If Augusta is to avoid a similar escalation of racial tensions, residents must trust one another and take off their masks.

 

 

I cannot help voicing my thoughts on the events taking place in Ferguson, Mo., and wonder why I am not hearing public remarks from the leadership – black, white, clergy, politicians, business owners – in this community. Not the politically correct ones we normally get, but the ones we deserve as citizens of this area.

We deserve to know what our leaders really think and feel about the events occurring there and across this nation – not in private, secure conversations, but in a public way. We need to know how they would react under similar circumstances if such an event should occur here, and what they are doing to prevent it from happening. This goes far beyond law enforcement preparedness. It goes to the heart of the matter – facing reality.

 

WHAT IS WRONG with us is that we put on masks before we walk out of our doors each day to face the public, and nobody really gets to know who we really are. That’s what makes it impossible to deal effectively with the kinds of events we are witnessing in Ferguson, and those that happened days ago. Leaders come to the forefront, if at all, protecting their derrieres and casting blame on everybody except themselves. It is a rare commodity to hear one say, “It was my fault.”

I contend that if we are going to prevent a re-occurrence of what some of us experienced here in Augusta in 1970 and what is happening now in Ferguson, we have got to take off our masks and be real with one another. Trust never will be achieved until we really get to know one another as human beings, with all of the shortcomings that go with that designation.

For instance, we know that some snakes are poisonous and need to be avoided. But for those of us who don’t have sufficient knowledge of snakes, we treat all of them the same – poisonous. This is a disservice not only to snakes, but also to human beings of different races. Our stories are different, for sure, but if we would take time to know them, maybe – just maybe – at least we can learn to get along together, if not love one another.

 

THIS PROBABLY IS going to be a harder task for whites than for blacks, simply because blacks, on a whole, do have some knowledge of whites. We were required to learn their history in school. In addition, we learned a great deal working for them, both in their homes and their businesses. Whites, on the other hand, did not have this reciprocal relationship with blacks. Few, if any, ever worked for blacks in any place or capacity. This is not to cast aspersions, but rather to point out a fact of history.

Even if whites wanted to have empathy toward us, they most likely would fall short of the mark. They don’t have the history behind them that would do justice to their empathy. Yes, we all have the same emotional potentials. We hurt, we cry, we hate, we love and so forth. We react to all kinds of stimuli in similar ways, because we are humans.

 

BUT WHEN WE are made to look less than or treated less than, and told that we are less than, because of something we can’t change – our race, for instance – we, as a part of God’s creation, are done an irrevocable injustice. It is seared in the mind, heart and culture, never to be forgotten.

 

THIS IS NOT unique to the black-and-white relationship in America. It plays out in the news every day between Israelis and Palestinians. Peace, peace, they say, but there is no lasting peace, and there never will be. It is only temporary peace, as long as it is in the hands of people with irreconcilable differences. The history of these two peoples has shown that. And so it seems to be here in America between whites and blacks – and with the Hatfields and McCoys, and so forth.

Rodney King asked us a simple question during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, “Can’t we all just get along?” I say yes – not long, maybe for a little while.

 

I BELIEVE THE one-sided teaching of American history has brought us to where we are today in race relations. If we don’t change our curricula in schools to include the American Negro as it does the white man here in this country, we are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past. The cold fact is that whites do not know us, and some don’t care to know us because they don’t see the need. Until white people come to see that need, they always will have a misunderstanding of us, choosing instead to rely on stereotypical descriptions of who we are.

The advantage we had of knowing the white man’s ways helped us survive to this day. Blacks didn’t bow and patronize him because we felt he deserved it. We did it to survive. In fact, everything the black man did, or is doing today, in my opinion, is to survive under a system that has shown a disregard for his humanity and his dignity. We watched the atrocities toward us throughout history and did little about them. We had the instinct to react as any man would, but survival was a better choice then, and may be now.

 

WE NOW CALL those kind of black men Uncle Toms. But we survived as a people because Uncle Toms knew the danger of challenging the white man ill-equipped. Even in 2014, that danger still exists – a lesson I hope our young black men will heed today. Don’t provoke authority, especially people in authority who carry weapons. Blacks may be within their rights to challenge them, but it is not to their advantage to be dead right.

We all are leaders in one way or another. What we do and what we say affect people’s lives. We are not perfect by any means, and never will be. But I think we should, every day, strive for that mark. That requires taking time to hear the other man’s story, and not assume that we already know it.

Even after we have heard it, we will not fully understand it until we have walked in his shoes, which is impossible to do. However, I guarantee we will deal with him in a more intelligent way in future relationships.

Trust is built on knowledge. I trust you because I know you are key to the question Rodney King asked.

 

(The writer is a former Augusta City Council member and a retired labor relations manager from Bechtel Savannah River Inc.)

 

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