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The Benjamin Watson Post

The comments written by Benjamin Watson on Ferguson have a calming effect on the racially charged disaster in Ferguson for the rest of the country, but not on what’s happening there.  Watson walks a tightrope of neutrality, trying to appeal to both sides of the controversy.  The deeper questions, however, go unanswered.

It reminds me of the Tevye conversation in Fiddler when he listens to one man and says, “You’re right!” 

The then listens to another man who expresses the opposite opinion and says, “You’re right!”

A third man pipes up and says, “Wait a minute.  They can’t both be right.”

Tevye’s brilliant response?  “You’re right!”

The gargantuan elephant in the room is THE PAST.     There are three shameful and haunting elements to the past in black history. One is called slavery.  The second is called discrimination.  The third is called racism.  The three are inextricably linked, but, as they play out in the culture, they need to be addressed differently.  Slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, but open discrimination started.  Open discrimination ended with the Civil Rights Act in 1964, but racism took over and continues in varying degrees into the present. 

I am a white male of an appreciable age.  I am personally not responsible for slavery.  (Let’s not go to the culture-wide arguments right now—I’m talking about me, personally.)  Neither am I—personally—responsible for open discrimination.  Whether I am responsible for racism is up to members of other races.  I don’t think I am racist, but others might.  I need to own up to any culpability I may have.

I do know this:  If elements in society want to make me responsible for the entirety of aggrieved black history, then they will not be satisfied with anything less than revenge.  Revenge is spelled punishment and payback … for starters.  Until they get that, there is only one emotion that works: anger.  The anger is alive and well in Ferguson, but it is much more than anger over Michael Brown.  It stems from years and years of feeling wronged and victimized by racism.  Michael Brown’s shooting only symbolizes the larger issue.

Here’s the thing:  I can do nothing to change the past.  Unless we start with the present, we remain stalemated and entrenched in anger.  There was Detroit.  There was Watts.  Now there is Ferguson.  There will likely be another hotspot, and another, and another, ad infinitum. 

I do say to Benjamin Watson, “Thanks!”  Thank you for starting the dialogue.  Leadership cannot come from whites.  It has to come from you and those who share your history.  Either we come to the table of peace to talk or we continue to clash on the streets of rioting and destruction.  I desperately wanted it to be resolved in my generation.  Those prospects look bleak.  Benjamin Watson represents the next generation.  I hope they get it done.




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