“Where Do You Stand?” That was the title of a newsletter Path To Publishing sent out June 2020, right at the peak of the racial pandemic. It was basically addressing how businesses,
corporations, and organizations around the map had been advised to make a statement regarding
where they stood when it comes to racial injustice. You can read the full newsletter by clicking this link: https://mailchi.mp/5534bf81d645/wheredoyoustand?e=11275b30b7. As expected,
several individuals unsubscribed from the newsletter, but twice as many actually replied to the
newsletter, sharing exactly where they stand when it comes to racial injustice.
One of those replies was from Path To Publishing Board Member, Ned Barnett. Instead of summarizing or paraphrasing Ned’s email, Path To Publishing feels it will be more effective for you to read as it was written and received.
First, let me briefly describe a couple of things I did in college that more-or-less began my outward expression of my disgust toward racism. As a child of the 50s and 60s, I grew up in all-white communities and had no opportunity to see racism at first hand – until we moved from suburban Chicago to Atlanta. There I entered the first high school in Atlanta that had been integrated from the moment that it was opened, then I went to the University of Georgia, just four years after it integrated (peacefully, unlike those in neighboring Alabama and Mississippi). So, my first personal experiences of racial issues helped me see that integration was the norm, not the exception, and that racial harmony could exist. I also began to realize just how casually (not overtly) racist the world I’d grown up in (suburban Cleveland and Chicago) prior to moving to the South was, compared to what I saw in Atlanta and Athens.
For what it’s worth, I have long stood against institutional and individual racism, and the hypocrisy of a society which claims to believe that “all men are created equal” but which still practice racial bias, overt or covert. While in college, I was one of a small group of people (as President of the Methodist Student Society at the University of Georgia) working to institutionally desegregate the church in Georgia. At that time, there were three institutional groups – the North Georgia Conference, the South Georgia Conference (self-explanatory) and the Georgia Conference. Pastors and churches belonged to one of these three groups. Two were institutionally white (though some individual congregations had integrated themselves – a different issue), while the Georgia Conference was institutionally black. The two white conferences offered pastors a guaranteed minimum salary (regardless of the budgets of individual churches), along with healthcare benefits and a pension. The Georgia Conference couldn’t afford this – as a result, most black Methodist pastors in Georgia had day jobs, limiting their ability to serve as a true pastor to their flocks.
I was not alone in feeling this institutional segregation was an outrage, but given the religious politics of the Methodist Church in the 1969-70 era, if we went public, we’d accomplish nothing. So, we set out to encourage one of the two white Conferences (or both of them) to embrace and merge with the Georgia Conference, allowing those pastors to work for Christ on an equal footing. We literally had to meet in secret (an interesting story you might want to hear some day; I learned a lot from it, including a lesson delivered personally—probably not the lesson he had in mind—by then-Governor Jimmy Carter himself), but eventually the North Georgia Conference stepped up to the plate. From the day the merger was executed, all black Methodist ministers in Georgia were “grandfathered in” (pension-wise) and began immediately receiving at least the minimum salary and healthcare benefits. More important, God’s church was no longer institutionally segregated.
At around the same time, in Athens, Georgia, a civil rights march was aggressively broken up by local police on the charge of “parading without a permit.” This pissed me off (there’s really no other term), so I set out to find a way of proving the hypocrisy I’d seen in action, and along the way, I learned the local (mostly, or perhaps all, white) police force was demanding more pay and threatening to go out on strike. Seeing the opportunity, I organized a march (without getting a parade permit) to protest at city hall in favor of more pay for police. What we did was as technically illegal as what the civil rights marchers did, but of course, the police would not break up a demonstration of protesters supporting their efforts to get a living wage. This march made the Atlanta papers (I caught hell from my very conservative parents, because I was quoted as one of the organizers, and how dare I?), and it exposed the hypocrisy for all who cared to see.
Since that time, I have always worked to find ways (mostly as a member of “management” in various employer organizations) to promote equality of opportunity – occasionally taking stands (and in those cases, always against overt or covert double standards). I also did what I could to raise my son to eschew any racial bias – I figured that as a white boy born in South Carolina, if I didn’t take a positive action, he’d absorb what was still the mainstream culture there at the time he was born. I think it worked, as his first job after college was as a professor at Tennessee State University, a “historically black” university, where he was one of only three white faculty members in the liberal arts school, yet students repeatedly voted him what was, in essence, “professor of the year.”
Finally, as I think you know, I’m currently working on a book, tentatively titled A History of Race and Politics in America. Unlike the NYT 1619 Project, I’m starting with the birth of America (the Declaration of Independence) and move forward to the present day, identifying the evolution of racial minorities in America from chattel slaves to an American president. In researching this topic, I’ve found that most source material has been remarkably biased in that the books I’ve read and other sources I’ve accessed generally prove to be polemics instead of history – they exist to grind an axe on one extreme or the other. This has strengthened my desire to write a book that is fair, even-handed, and as historically accurate as I can make it.
In this context, I have been both encouraged and discouraged by the recent, as you called it (quite accurately) racial pandemic. I salute those who march legally and non-violently in favor of George Floyd, who was brutally and callously murdered, on camera, by a sworn officer of the law (something that is as inexcusable as it is outrageous). But I cringe (and worse) when others use this tragedy as an excuse to riot and loot and put to the torch businesses (and even a church), none of which had anything to do with either Floyd’s death or the underlying hatred behind that awful execution. Close to home (Las Vegas), the execution-style shooting of a local police officer in Circus-Circus (last I heard, he’s still on life support) does nothing to promote the idea of a scrupulously fair, color-blind criminal justice system, one in which George Floyd would not have died, one in which would never allow the death of a man like Floyd to be swept under the rug.
Joylynn, I hope I haven’t intruded over-much, but between my research and initial writings for my book, as well as my past experiences, the bold peaceful protests and the violent riots have both had an impact on me – one for good, one for ill. - Ned
If you’d like to share where you stand, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.