Over the past weeks, as I’ve read articles and watched news reports of all the events surrounding the horrible deaths of George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, I’ve been awakened to a reality that should have been obvious to me; but wasn’t.
A chronic and acceptable level of racism, to varying degrees, afflicts us all.
I have listened to old, white men in golf carts in Florida crying out “white power,” and angry rants about saving our history, our culture, our beloved heroes, and our values. I’ve watched a gang of threatening white men in Indiana pin a black man, activist Vauhxx Booker, against a tree.
I’ve put up with a president who has decided to build a reelection campaign on a foundation that panders to those who feel victimized by the condemnation of the confederacy and the opening up of our nation’s history to its sad and racist truth.
Meanwhile, we in our divided nation demonstrate our affliction by behaving much like a dysfunctional family.
We spew hatred, shout out threats, and cheer ugly and ignorant comments about our other family members as if we were the only ones in the room, even though they are sitting at the table with us. We who have benefited from a system that is slanted in our favor, cry about our lost freedoms and threatened traditions.
For that I, as a representative of older white men, offer an apology to our African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Mid-Eastern and all of our marginalized sisters and brothers. You deserve better from us.
Please forgive our ignorance. Not all of it has been intentional.
As a child, I think of the adults who taught me their racist jokes. I remember being told, if a white adult liked a particular black person, that such a black man or woman “was one of the good ones,” as if all other blacks were “bad” ones.
Our school history never taught of the racist murders in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, glossed over the horrors of slavery and the treason of the confederacy, we never spoke about the attempted genocide and broken promises suffered by Native Americans. Civil rights was taught as if it was already a realized dream — Martin Luther King Jr. was described to us as a rabble rouser and a communist.
It hasn’t been easy for me to find and face the truth.
Over the course of my life, I have sought to read honest histories of our nation’s past and the sermons of King. I have been blessed with the opportunity to talk with, know and embrace as friends various individuals of color. I have intentionally worked to overcome the lies of my childhood that have been propagated by a system that quietly and very subtly indoctrinated me into a seemingly innocent and unintentional racism.
Please forgive me for my past. I am sorry.
It is as if I have been asleep for most of my life. I have been roused from my slumber; but I am still a little foggy and there is still a bit more sleep in my eyes. I am waking up, though. I am on your side.
I will not support any candidate for office from president to senator to representative to state legislature or any local office who won’t acknowledge our past failures, who won’t listen to the outcry of those seeking justice, who won’t embrace our need to change. And, if those who are elected this time don’t hold to their promises, I will vote them out the next time until those elected actually begin to act on behalf of everyone.
I hope all of us will do the same.
I do believe that our founders were divinely inspired when they wrote the ideals espoused in the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Perhaps the greatest proof of God’s presence within their efforts is that none of them were able to fully live up to the words they wrote. Yet, their imperfections did not stop them from pointing the generations to follow toward the dream of a better nation…a nation built on equality, liberty, and justice for all.
Obviously we aren’t there yet. In fact we have a long way to go. But it doesn’t have to be a lonely journey.
Maybe, like me, a lot of us are just waking up. Imagine all our voices united…all our energies working toward the same end…all our differences accepted and celebrated. I hope we can envision such a nation, because if we can, then maybe as one, healthy, vibrant, and loving family, we will find a way to face that new day together.
David Rockwood was a Lutheran pastor for 28 years and recently retired as an inspector for the W.Va. Dept. of Environmental Protection. Residing in Fairmont with his wife and two dogs, he is also the author of “Tutoring Tommy.”