Undoing Racism: A Difficult Dialogue Amid Mizzou and Other Recent Events

MUThe fallout continues at the University of Missouri after threats posted on social media boost tensions even higher, and after an assistant professor draws fire for trying to call in “muscle” to remove a student photojournalist covering a large protest in a public space.

By now you know the president and chancellor resigned amid growing pressure from student groups, including a united front of university football players and coaches, protesting a reported lack of action by administrators in handling several incidents of racism on campus.

Perhaps it was the solidarity from both black and white football players providing the most pressure for a change in regime. They vowed not to practice until the president, Tim Wolfe, was gone.

The group Concerned Student 1950 (named after the first year black students were admitted to the university) listed Wolfe’s ouster as one of many demands, which was backed by a graduate student who launched a hunger strike until he saw change commence.

All of this over the following horrifying reported incidents:

Someone used feces to illustrate a swastika in a residence hall last month. The head of the student government, who is an African-American, said he was called the “N-word” while walking across campus.

A group of black students reported someone interrupting their event with a racial epithet shouted their way. That same group says the university did little to track down the person behind the verbal assault.

University students took to Facebook and Twitter, saying these events are the tip of an iceberg; the latest in several years of turmoil that have left race relations on campus well,…on ice.

It’s also the latest installment in America’s ongoing woes in racial division, begging the question: how do we undo racism?

And lets be honest, it seems it hasn’t been this bad in ages.
The question has crossed my mind numerous times in my life, especially since I took part in a pivotal conversation called “Undoing Racism” in Florida, sponsored by the National League of Cities (NLC) in 1999.

The president of the organization, then-Mayor Clarence Anthony of South Bay, FL selected the topic and said of us participants:

If we weren’t sweating, growing uncomfortable, and angry, then we weren’t participating.

“Oh boy,” I thought. I felt uncomfortable right away!

I was a 16-year-old lad on the edge of my seat wondering what everyone would say, and what I would say.

I actually found myself doing more listening than talking, witnessing a conversation that came down to which ethnic group had it “harder” in our nation’s history.

It got tense, but I remember cooler heads prevailing.

I also remember one lawmaker saying perhaps ironically, “you can’t legislate the heart”; that no amount of policy making can change the way we treat each other.

This was a time in my youth when I was learning how public policy could settle certain disputes in our society. I had studied the various ways our nation has battled back from systematic discrimination and disenfranchisement, pursuant to the true doctrines of liberty and civil rights; (a battle that isn’t over as we all know).

Then it dawned on me: I didn’t have to seek out the answer. We were involved in the answer.
We were talking to each other and better yet, we were listening too!

By no means was it the first dialogue on race relations and by no means would it be the last.

I learned it was a constant process, and it was the only weapon we really have to fight the forces of intolerance and bigotry.

These conversations will never be easy for any of us. We’re going to sweat. We’re going to feel angry. We’re going to be uncomfortable, but we have to talk about it, just as the students, faculty and overall University of Missouri community is doing now.

Perhaps those conversations and actions didn’t come soon enough at Missouri, but I know one thing for sure: it’s never too late.

I feel we must not only watch how Missouri moves forward, but it must inspire us to have this difficult conversation with our families, friends and neighbors too.

Remember:

We are part an unbroken chain of Americans dating back to the founding; handed the keys to our future by those who came before us. What we do with those keys is our choice.

We have been charged with the responsibility of making our nation and really the world a better place for ours, and future generations.

Building a more perfect union has to start somewhere. Let is begin with us.

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