Latent racism on road signs requires focus

My Jan. 22 letter “Racism in Columbia County?” addressed a historical slight concerning the simple naming of road signs along one stretch of one country road where I lived the bulk of my life – when I wasn’t off defending the country as a U.S. Army non-commissioned officer.

 

But that tiny observation touched a big bundle of nerves because it addressed the unspoken “elephant” in the middle of that and too many other country roads: racism. It’s the big disease guaranteed to kill our greatness if left unchecked.

Even as a question, notice the headline again, the word, racism, causes overheating. My article was true.

Of course the scholarly responders to my article said that was impossible, given that I live in California, a place, for them, that’s as far as you can get from the truth. But I welcomed all the responses, as hotheaded and uninformed as most were, because a solution producing conversation about race is still a century-and-a-half overdue.

It’s not a far stretch to think things will get worse before they get better, seeing how people responded to my letter and seeing how the hopes, dreams and concerns of way too many Americans still don’t matter to way too many other Americans.

The Paschals and Willinghams I introduced went unmentioned in the responses, as if they didn’t even matter. They were left invisible, like something right out of Ralph Ellerson’s classic novel, Invisible Man. Many responders deliberately missed the point. Some even said they know some Paschals or Willinghams who are white, as if to say, “So there,” as a way to debunk my article.

I’ve also known that set of Paschals they’re talking about – Barry, Jim and David – for 50 years. But they are not the Paschals, “Hank, Mike, Tobe and them,” clearly referred to from Terrace Drive and the Willinghams referred to on Bee Hive Drive.

Focus. Solutions, especially those aimed at racism, require focus. The thing to do is take a drive down Terrace and Bee Hive Drives. Meet the people. See how real they are and judge how deserving they are of acknowledgement.

The point of the article was that a lack of equal acknowledgment in our public infrastructure is an example of institutionalized racism and a disservice to us all. To some it’s a small issue, but there is no such thing as a little racism. Was it a little or a lot of racism that killed Dr. King?

There is, however, too little civil discussion of racism and even fewer attempts to fix it. And if you find yourself defending racism in any form, then know that, ironically, you’re probably the most important part of the fix. We move nowhere without you.

The issue isn’t seeing racism everywhere. The issue is allowing racism even there on a road sign.

Columbia County’s better than that.

I expected attempts to deny the truth of my article. Denial, along with cowardice, is the sugar that feeds the cancer of racism. But here’s the unchanging thing about truth, whether it comes from the sunny left coast of California or from the dark recesses of suddenly enlightened minds: it still can set us all free. Emphasis on “all.”

Don Thomas

U.S. Army Sergeant Major (Ret.)

Victorville, CA

 

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