A conversation, not con­fronta­tion, about race

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Cal Thomas Cal Thomas is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices.

Colum­nist Cal Thomas weighs in about ef­forts to bridge the widen­ing gap in the United States.

That race con­tin­ues to be a ma­jor source of anx­i­ety and divi­sion in Amer­ica is an un­de­ni­able fact. While some politi­cians con­tinue to use race to di­vide, Har­vard Pro­fes­sor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is try­ing again to bridge the gap in his lat­est PBS doc­u­men­tary se­ries, “Black Amer­ica Since MLK.”

As a con­ser­va­tive white per­son, what I like about this pro­gram and Gates’ pre­vi­ous pro­grams is that he doesn’t judge or preach. He lets facts and peo­ple speak for them­selves. Many whites do not un­der­stand the African-Amer­i­can strug­gle be­cause they have not lived it. They should lis­ten to the sto­ries.

Oprah Win­frey quotes Jesse Jack­son as say­ing, “Ex­cel­lence is the best de­ter­rent to racism.” Who could dis­agree with that?

The story that gripped my heart most is told by Ron­ald Day, a man who grew up in the projects and dropped out of high school be­cause he saw no fu­ture for him­self. Day turned to sell­ing drugs and made a lot of money be­fore he even­tu­ally was caught. He served 15 years in prison. A le­git­i­mate point is made that blacks go to prison more of­ten than whites for sell­ing ba­si­cally the same drug — crack co­caine in mostly ur­ban ar­eas, pow­dered co­caine in mid­dle- and up­per­class neigh­bor­hoods.

The pro­gram notes that be­tween 1983 and 1997, the num­ber of African Amer­i­cans in­car­cer­ated for drug crimes grew by 2,000 per­cent, more than six times the rate of in­crease for white Amer­i­cans.

While I wish there had been more con­ser­va­tive AfricanAmer­i­can voices in the se­ries — I’ve heard enough from Cor­nel West, Jesse Jack­son and Al Sharp­ton, whose per­spec­tives are fa­mil­iar — we do hear the Rev. Calvin Butts de­nounc­ing the misog­yny and lan­guage of rap mu­sic and busi­ness­man Arm­strong Wil­liams not­ing that African Amer­i­cans have let gov­ern­ment “over­take their lives,” un­like, he says, the Jewish com­mu­nity, whose mem­bers look out for one an­other.

Gates ends the pro­gram by ask­ing: “Were the prob­lems we faced re­ally of our own mak­ing, or were they part of the un­fin­ished busi­ness that the civil rights move­ment never had a chance to re­solve?” The an­swer is both, which is not a con­tra­dic­tion.

African Amer­i­cans may now be open to lis­ten­ing to new voices. One in­di­ca­tion of that is that Don­ald Trump won 7 per­cent more of the black vote than Mitt Rom­ney did in 2012.

What I like about Gates is his gen­tle na­ture. He draws peo­ple out and im­plores view­ers to lis­ten to their le­git­i­mate ex­pres­sions of sad­ness and anger at not be­ing treated as hu­man be­ings equal to all other hu­man be­ings. These pro­grams in­vite blacks and whites to a ta­ble of conversation, not con­fronta­tion. It is in lis­ten­ing to each other and our dif­fer­ing life ex­pe­ri­ences that we cre­ate the best at­mos­phere for bridg­ing the racial di­vide.

In conversation, as Win­frey says, “you are able to con­nect to the heart of some­body.” When you are able to con­nect with some­one’s heart, you con­nect with a real per­son that has noth­ing to do with the color of their skin, but rather, as Dr. King said, the con­tent of their char­ac­ter.

Check your lo­cal list­ings for times and dates for this pro­gram, es­pe­cially if you are a white con­ser­va­tive. You also can go to PBS.org and see the en­tire se­ries. It is worth your time. Gates is mak­ing a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to race re­la­tions in Amer­ica. Who doesn’t con­sider that a wor­thy and nec­es­sary goal?

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