Commentary: Coming together to heal’s nation’s racial divide

America continues to have a racial divide, and perhaps nothing is as important as a continued dialogue on how to solve it. What should be on the future agenda of those interested in civil rights and social justice? What efforts deserve to be prioritized? Prison reform? Reparations? School improvement? Black entrepreneurship? What are the success rates, advantages or disadvantages of each? Are they practical- are they succeeding, and which should be re-examined, challenged, revised expanded or eliminated?

David McCullough, told the story about an American innovator who once said “All right boys. Let’s start it up and see why it doesn’t work.” McCullough argued that this example was a “very American approach to problem that I think will find its course. Beware the purists, the doctrinaires. It has been the empirical method largely, by way of trial and error, that we have come so far. America itself is an experiment, and we should always bear that in mind.”

Wise words from America’s foremost popular historian. But, one can argue, do we do that anymore? A very real problem is whether discussion about these issues is even possible in today’s poisonous racial climate.

A young black man named Coleman Hughes spoke before a congressional committee about reparations. While he identified himself as a liberal, he opposed that idea as an unworkable diversion, and proposed other options that he thought would be more helpful to America’s minorities. Whether you agree with his arguments or not, he was articulate and sincere, but because he dared break racial ranks, Hughes was denounced for his opinions as a “race traitor.”

Slavery was evil, and the violence of the Klan will forever be a stain on our national honor. That said, we have raised a generation that thinks that racism and slavery are solely an American phenomenon. The evil that was U.S. slavery is in no way diminished by the fact that only 4% of Africans were enslaved and brought to the New World were taken to America (Brazil’s total was much higher, as were the total transported to the West Indies).

And while every American should be ashamed of the treatment of our slaves, it pales in comparison to the past condition of African slaves in Haiti, or Christian slaves in North Africa.

Slavery, by the way, still exists in in one form or another in Haiti, Brazil and other areas around the world, and racism is endemic to virtually every human society. Where slavery and racism existed or are still practiced today, it is almost always just accepted or simply not talked about.

The difference in America, I would argue, is that a large part of the populace, white or black, find this unacceptable, and believe it is a betrayal of the national legacy. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they honor the Founders’ concept that “All men are created equal,” while acknowledging that many if not most fell well short of that goal. Others, however, take a darker view of our nation’s past icons.

Not long ago, for example, a school district in Texas decided to rename Benjamin Franklin Elementary School because at one time that founder himself had a “man servant.” While that is true, Franklin later recoiled about what he had done, ended that slaves’ bondage, and founded and vigorously worked for the American Anti-Slavery Society. Sadly, today there is a cottage industry that believes that we are an inherently hateful nation, and almost triumphantly present an unbalanced view of virtually all of the people Americans historically respect

I know many will disagree with me, in whole or in part, and that is OK, hopefully we can still talk.

Larry Koch, Ed.D. is a resident of Magnolia.

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