My college friend and writer, Helen Louise Herndon, posted this on Facebook. I could not have said it better, so I am sharing it here.
Racial Reconciliation or Respect
Following the horrific terrorist crimes in Charleston, many calls for talks about race or for racial reconciliation have been sounded. It’s this term, “reconciliation,” that I wonder if we truly understand.
One definition of “reconciliation” is “an act of reconciling, as when former enemies agree to an amicable truce.” Another is “cause to become amicable,” while yet one other is “become friendly again after a disagreement.”
How do these definitions relate to racial reconciliation, or do they relate? Generally speaking, racial reconciliation is directed strictly to blacks and whites despite the fact that people of diverse races harbor prejudices and racism. Perhaps a few poignant questions to ensue are: “Are all blacks and whites former enemies? Have all blacks and whites been hostile, unfriendly, and disagreeable? And lastly, have all blacks and whites been operating on disagreement or unfriendliness and need to become friendly again? The answers to these questions—honest answers, that is—will determine if a collective racial reconciliation is really needed.
There are definitely individuals and particular groups who qualify for reconciliation. African Americans, especially, have been on the receiving end of too many injustices and inequalities. It would be a miracle if organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists groups would agree to an amicable truce with African Americans. The Federal government has also been against them in the past, and laws have been enacted to rectify and reconcile those inequalities and injustices. Today, there are various localities or institutions whose leaders continue unfair practices toward blacks. They need to step up and seek reconciliation by righting the ordinances and eliminating abuses of power against blacks.
However, to call for reconciliation between “all” whites and “all” blacks misses the mark because not all are guilty nor all offended or harmed. Collective guilt or collective offense does not support justice in the matter of race. The majority of whites today are descendants of immigrants who came in the waves of immigration after slavery was abolished and possibly did not settle where Jim Crow laws were in effect. Slavery was also possible through complicit black and white participation in both the trade and the ownership. African American historians, such as John Hope Franklin, Carter G. Woodson, Henry Louis Gates, R. M. Grooms, and others, have recorded in depth this complicity.
As to race, respect and civility call for caution in using broad brush strokes to paint all of a racial group as being together and the same in guilt or innocence. Doesn’t history—ancient, national, world—teach us this most important lesson? Didn’t many Americans die fighting against slavery? Didn’t many Germans and other Europeans die hiding and protecting Jews? Didn’t many Africans suffer under and attempt to overthrow Idi Amin?
Let’s support racial reconciliation where and with whom it is needed while acknowledging it’s not an essential issue between two races where many of both races are already amicable with each other and living in peaceful harmony. At the same time, let’s recognize we all need to work on civility and respect. Both blacks and whites, along with the rest of the world, can pursue this ideal. In pursuit of this ideal, the pitting of one race against another will diminish greatly, as we will see the individual rather than the few who are filled with hate. Lastly, we might find ourselves to be supportive of and promoting the welfare of all.
Helen Louise Herndon
June 30, 2015