By Don Keelan
I am having a difficult time determining if racism in America can ever be resolved. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could develop a “vaccine” that, along with eliminating COVID-19, cured the long-standing epidemic of racism?
The subject came up recently between a colleague and myself when he told me that nothing has ever been done about racism in America and I disagreed.
(Full disclosure: What happened to several black men by the police in Minneapolis, Georgia, North Charleston, Ferguson, Dallas and other places should be condemned, and those who perpetrated such atrocities should be held accountable — with one additional caveat, their leaders should be as well.)
For my generation, 80-plus years old, it is difficult to accept the statement that nothing has been done in America to eradicate racism. For that matter, what exactly is racism?
It has been written elsewhere that all humans, from a genetic perspective, are almost exactly the same, with any difference amounting to less than 1 percent.
If that scientific statement is anywhere near accurate, what is it with us that causes the upheaval that is categorized as racism? Is it fear, ignorance, jealously, cultural, or something else? And if it is created by humans, one would believe it can be corrected by humans.
From my perspective, a great deal has been done to correct the wrongs of history when it had to do with race. And like so many of my generation, once government stepped in to correct and change the way we were dealing with those who were in the minority due to the color of their skin, we thought we had resolved the issue. But we did not.
For example, after the Civil War, three amendments to the U.S. Constitution were passed within five years — the 13th, 14th and 15th. They were adopted to end slavery, provide equal protection and grant the right to vote. Government did something, but not enough.
The subject of discrimination was once again addressed in the early part of the 20th century when, on August 26, 1920, the 19th amendment to the Constitution was adopted and women were given the right to vote. Many had believed that all civil rights issues were now resolved. But they were not.
In the late 1940s, the issue of racism was addressed. Congress, after World War II and under great pressure, intervened and desegregated the United States military forces. Segregation and discrimination may have been removed from the military, but not elsewhere.
It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that major changes would come, and only after numerous street protests took place — discrimination and segregation were no longer to be tolerated in housing, education or the work place. In addition, a few years later, government corrected the wrongs of discrimination based on age, sex, religion, country of origin and disability. We thought we had once and for all corrected the wrongs of centuries past — but we did not address the presence of hate.
In the early part of the 21st century, governments once again stepped in and made it a crime to take action or make speeches that promoted hateful actions toward minorities.
This year, throughout the country, there will be numerous laws adopted to address policing practices. Once again, governments will conclude that they have resolved the problem of racism. And then what? Will we ever come to the realization that culture trumps policy, laws, training, and
In the end, politicians cannot resolve systemic problems of any type, and especially racism, by setting policy. Don’t they realize that the culture of every business, institution, organization, school and home will have to change?
Government can pass all the laws it wishes to correct the wrongs of racism. But until we, as individuals of all races and ethnicities, can accept the fact that people are different, we have a huge problem to address.
Let’s get on with the difficult conversations and do so with dignity, respect, encouragement, and above all, honesty.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.