Monday, June 22, 2015

I Intend To Do My Part To Reduce Racism

Today I am in Belfast. Five days ago a twenty-one year old white male shot and killed nine African-American parishioners of the Charleston, South Carolina Emanuel AME church, during their Wednesday night prayer service. I am sad. I am grieving. I'm not sure what to do.

I want to recount all the reasons I am not racist and try to absolve myself. I want to. But I can't. Despite all the reasons I am not a racist, by saying I am not a racist, I have to accept some responsibility. I am white. I am privileged. I have not suffered racial prejudiced in America. As a white male, I am in a long line of those responsible for racial prejudice in America. What can I do?

Riding in taxi yesterday, I asked the driver about the troubles in Belfast. He said there's no room for hatred. "We need to leave it all behind us and find a way to peace." I told him there are racial troubles in America. He said he thought that was over. I told him it has never been over. It's always existed, we have just turned a blind eye and done nothing to move towards full peace with all our brothers and sisters in America of all colors.

When Clyde Cunningham and his family moved two doors down in the mid-60's, we became friends and teammates. I didn't realize how isolated he felt as a teenage African-American. He and his brother were two of a dozen young blacks at a high school of 5,000. That was Arizona. Then, as a minor league baseball player in the early 70's I saw what life was like in the South. When a black player danced with the white wife of another player, the owner asked our black teammate to leave. So, we all left the bar. In 1973, I witnessed the prejudice towards Bernie Smith, the first African American manager in professional baseball. I played for him that year in Danville, Illinois in the Midwest League (A). Years before the majors would hire Frank Robinson as the first African-American manager. Bernie could only suffer the insult for one year. But, we became better professionals and young men because of him. All during my playing career I watched good men like Dick Davis and Lafayette Currance and countless others endure ridiculous and insane prejudice because they were black.

Again, in the 1980's, I saw unbelievable prejudice when I hired John Shumate to be head basketball coach and the first full time African American employee at the then Southern Baptist Grand Canyon University. The slanders and threats he suffered were intolerable and to say the least, unChristian. Ten years later when I hired African American Leighton McCrary to be the then third African American full time employee the letters were no better. As a college baseball coach for twenty years, I took my players to places you would think prejudice wouldn't be tolerated. But John Patterson, Israel Walker, Channing Bunch, Larry Ross and many others suffered too many insults. I didn't do enough to attack the problem of racism in my own neighborhood.

Racial prejudice is alive and rancid in America. Why? Because I have not spoken up loud enough. I have kept too quiet. I am tired of watching injustice being suffered by my African American and black sisters and brothers. Today I worry about my own nephew being racially profiled. What will I do?

I will no longer tolerate any act that sounds, smells, tastes, feels, or looks like racism. Whether it be family, friend, or acquaintance, I will speak out and call it what it is. And anyone who senses the same from me, I expect them to call me on any racism they see exhibited in my life. If white people would call one another on any semblance of racism, then at least we could make a dint in the inherent racism that exists in this country. Because whether we want to admit it or not, our families of origin are the cause of the problem. The sin of grandfathers and grandmothers and fathers and mothers are passed down upon their children, generation to generation. If you are free of prejudice or complicit behavior, thanks be to God. But, I doubt it. I want to contribute to the end of racism. I intend to do my part.

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