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 Writer's Desk  ... introducing NCR's mission of faith and justice based journalism

November 29, 2004
Vol. 2, No. 33



Margot Patterson Racism isn't ending
By Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

It's time for a summit meeting. Not on finances, on racism, the American dilemma, the American cancer, the American shame. Racism is a white issue, whites with an ill-founded superiority complex.

The anti-immigrant, anti-Latino issues in California, the anti-Native American stances in key states, the deep pockets of anti-Asian sentiment, the ostracism and discrimination felt by U.S. Muslims, and those of Middle Eastern or Afghan or like descent, these are some of the branch affiliates of American racism.

But the central pillar remains anti-black bigotry.

The latest FBI figures show that of the nation's 7,500 hate crimes in 2003, more than half were directed against African Americans, including four who were murdered.

But these figures do not tell the story. The real story exists only in the daily, sometimes hourly experiences of individual African Americans enduring life in the white-dominated society, white-dominated even in places like California, where, in fact, whites are slipping into minority status.

The real story exists, too, in U.S. inner cities and in the founding of the organizations that have sprung up in the past century to confront racism: the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Congress on Racial Equality, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Children's Defense Fund.

And the next stage -- to revitalize what they're all about -- is in their hands. Those are the organizations with the experience and the facts on file and in their annual reports. Nor is this suggestion merely a white man's solution from on high to "black problems." The suggestion is rooted in the fact that most major groups came out of an interracial understanding.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909 when a multiracial group answered "The Call" to renew the struggle for civil and political liberty.

The National Urban League grew out of a 1910 Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes. Key to its founding were a white woman, Ruth Baldwin, and a black educator, George Haynes, the first African American to receive a doctorate from Columbia University. Its focus was on the new tensions and discriminations experienced by blacks moving North from the South.

CORE was founded by an interracial group of students in Chicago, prompted and promoted by the local branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Its first co-chairs were a white, George Houser, and a black, James Farmer.

SNCC, CDF and SPLC emerged from the renewed civil rights struggles of the '60s. SNCC founders were black, the college students from North Carolina A&T University who refused to leave the Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. They triggered reform.

SPLC's founders were white, lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin, Southern lawyers taking on cases no one else would pursue. CDF came up out of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign, gaining impetus from Robert Kennedy's visits to hungry children in the shacks of the Mississippi Delta.

Go to any of these organizations and hear their stories, and their leaders and fieldworkers will reveal how little things have changed. Except that life in the inner cities has worsened.

My late white friend of more than 40 years, Derek Torrey Winans, who died this year (See Writer's Desk, July 12), lived in Newark a life that combated racism. Through him I quoted Carolyn Wallace in NCR March 9, 2001.

And I sign off repeating what she said, after spending a lifetime with her husband running a gym for youths and other programs in inner city Newark.

"Slavery's mark has never been removed in this country. That mark is ever present with us. At some point we should have come out of this by now. I work with young people, trying to give them some sense of identity. Especially the black males. That's where the youth corps and the conservation corps (government funded training and employment programs) really have been most successful."

But, she said, "look around. Does it look like we prospered any? Until we start talking about how drugs have affected the inner city it's almost a waste of time." But not quite a waste of time.

That why it's time for a meeting, a summit. First the groups, then the groups and the churches, synagogues and temples and concerned citizens.

Slavery's and bigotry's bequests have been accepted for too long. Racism isn't going to end, the further deterioration of America's cities is a near certainty, the abandonment of millions to poverty and all the ills charted and studied for the past 40 years, continues.

Call a meeting. I'll come. And do what I do. Write about it.

Arthur Jones' e-mail address is arthurjones@comcast.net

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