OUR ORIGINAL SIN
As perhaps you, I watched last evening's PBS American Experience program on the blinding of Isaac Woodard. I knew what was coming. I had read Gergel's book. Still, after seeing all those images, I did not sleep much last night. Today, my head feels like the morning after. As I tossed and turned, my mind raced through thousands of memories of youth that I thought I had suppressed. You see, I was born in 1943 and grew up in the Jim Crow south of the 1940s and 50s. Every day of my life, I witnessed the effects of segregation and discrimination although, as a white person, I could not have known the worst of it all.
When I observe what is going on in America these days, it makes me wonder whether anything has changed since the ghastly racist crime against Woodard in 1946. Are we less racist now than we were then? Last year, a white policeman in Minneapolis knelt on the neck of a black man for nine minutes until the man was dead. Unlike the Woodard case, the law officer did this in broad daylight knowing he was being recorded. Moreover, just a few weeks ago, on 6 January, a white supremacist mob invaded the U.S. Capitol to overturn a legal and legitimate election that had voted out a president who had stoked racial animosities. And, what about the voting restrictions passed in Georgia and pending in the legislatures of 42 other states? These laws are being passed to keep racial minorities from having equal political power. Too, what about the alarming escalation of vicious public attacks on Asian Americans? Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans of Asian descent have been brutally assaulted on the streets of American cities in the last year. I am sure you could add other examples of the evil of racism all around us.
As a progressive and lifetime student of history, I want so much to believe we are making progress on race. And, we are in important ways. Jim Crow is dead, at least officially. Overt racism is now socially unacceptable. The rights that African Americans have nowadays are light years ahead of what they had in the 1950s. However, deep down, racial discrimination still inhabits he hearts of too many of our fellow countrymen and women. After 500 years of deeply institutionalized racism in America, it is going to take a long and hard effort to get rid of it. But we must. Prejudice and discrimination based on race is both anti-Christian and anti-democratic. If President Truman and Judge Waring did it after the Woodard incident, we can do it now. To achieve a truly moral and democratic society we must overcome our original sin however hard that may be and however long it may take. Looking at America today, we would have to agree we have a long way to go, but I refuse to believe that we cannot get there because I know what has been accomplished in my lifetime.