First, there was Vester Flannigan, a disgruntled black news reporter who shot to death two white colleagues on live TV. Then, a few days later, a emotionally disturbed man named Shannon Miles is accused of walking up behind a white sheriff in Texas, shooting him in the head and emptying his gun into the man’s body.
Two brutal public killings just a few days apart sent a collective shudder through white America, and it was equally felt in black America. We are tied together by racial sensors deeply embedded in our psyche, but the process does not work the same in both communities. If someone black injures someone in the white community, we have a collective guilt in the black community, and our leaders are quick to denounce the deed. If someone white injures someone black, they must first prove it’s not something they did wrong, but it’s always the fault of the individual, and whites feel no collective guilt.
The reason for this is obvious: 250 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow created a climate where an injury to a white person could be and often was taken out on all of the slaves, or share croppers, either physically or mentally. In the same period of time, it was rare for a white person to be held responsible for anything he did to a black person.
I have heard hundreds of stories of white males committing murder and blaming it on the closest black person and getting them convicted — we were guilty if any white person said we were.
In the last 50 years since the technical end of Jim Crow laws, American Africans have been asking the city, county and state governments to take down those barriers against black exclusion. We had been paying taxes for 100 years without having the opportunity to use the facilities the taxes paid for and receiving few direct benefits directly back to our designed ghettos.
The damage that all of these things have done to black communities is impossible to calculate, and while we are dealing with those issues, we are under siege by the police force that is being paid with our tax dollars, to protect us. You would think that with all of this history, American Africans should be the most racially bitter people in America, but that has never been the case.
But in a matter of a few days, two black males — one with definite mental issues — reportedly snapped, and the black community will not be allowed to write them off as insane individuals, the way they are in the white community. It is an attack on white people and white police officers by the entire Black Lives Matter movement, claims one Texas sheriff. Few political pundits or social scientists see it as an opportunity for a long-overdue dialogue.
Countering the ‘racial bluster’
We are at a crossroad in America, and it’s time to make some decisions about what a real multi-racial society should look like and stop pretending that we have a melting pot that makes everyone indistinguishable. Our multiculturalism is a strength that we have not yet learned how to effectively use for America, except for international athletic competitions. Inside America, we are competing with each other for scarce resources, when cooperating with each other will give us more than enough for everyone.
We have another chance to honestly face this racial mess we have made in America. A mentally disturbed Dylan Roof kills black church-goers in South Carolina and two mentally ill black males kill reporters and police, while that memory still lingers in the air.
When do we start the dialogue in America about our collective racial future, or do we allow the violent reactions of emotionally disturbed men to force us into a racial war? Where are those wealthy progressive voices willing to put up capital and time to counter the racial bluster of the Donald Trump and right-wing America? We cannot afford to let a small group of racial Neanderthals take control of America and restructure our moral and racial boundaries.
I believe that what happens in this nation determines the future of the world, and the relationship between white and black America determines the future of America. So we cannot afford this to be a casual relationship because too much is at stake. We are not the only stakeholders; Latino Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans all have a stake in how this turns out and cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.
Only in Martin Luther King County do we have all of the stakeholders in America’s future, and like I keep saying, I don’t know a better place to start.
CHARLIE JAMES is co-founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. County Institute (mlkci.org). To comment on this column, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.