I’m old enough to remember how much I, like millions of other Johnny Carson fans, looked forward to the visits by Karnack the Magnificent to The Tonight Show. Karnack would always have the answers before he knew the questions. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had that skill?
What I want to muse about during the minute or two it takes you to read this column is what seems to be a never-ending cycle of racism, be it overt or covert, that occurs in Mr. Lincoln’s hometown on a much too frequent basis. First there is the crime, followed by all of us (well, maybe most of us) shaking our heads in disgust as we console the victims, then we search for the guilty who will pay the price for perpetrating such a dastardly deed even if he is ‘connected.’ And when we finally find the culprit, if we ever do, we spank him with a disorderly conduct charge, or we send him to “time out” and maybe take a few dollars out of his pocket and make him go sit in the corner until he says “I’m sorry, but it was just a joke and I promise not to do it again.” Then worst of all, we breathe a sigh of relief, stick out our chests and pat each other on the back while sipping a nice glass of wine or chugging down a brewski, applauding ourselves on what a fine thing we just accomplished, and then slipping back into our “way of life.” We showed him, didn’t we?
Well, no we didn’t, Springfield. What we did was what we always do, that is, we put a band-aid on a cancer and hope it doesn’t fall off. I have lost many a relative and friend to cancer and I know that a band-aid won’t cure this most often terminal disease.
That’s when DDT (diagnosis determines treatment) comes into play. Your physician may have a suspicion and refer you to an oncologist who will do a further diagnosis with additional tests and perhaps peer consultations, and if the suspicion proves positive, she will determine what treatment is best for you. I contend that racism is a cancer that we all suffer from. If racism is an individual phenomenon, wouldn’t we have solved it by now?
I acknowledge that individual racism does exist and that we’ve tried to put our arms around it and get rid of it, but we haven’t been able to find a cure. Does racism exist beyond the borders of individual relationships?
Last week I had the pleasure of spending time with 45 white and people of color folks from various Springfield private and public institutions. We locked ourselves away for two and a half days and had a conversation about race and racism in the United States and in Springfield. We learned about the history of our country and how racism plays a major role in who we are as a people. Through the study of our history we were able to come to a consensus definition of racism…so important when you’re dealing with this subject…that helped us to see racism with new eyes. We were able to see how systems and institutions created years ago have shaped and misshaped the superior/oppressed relationship between whites and people of color. We also talked about anti-racism and what it means to be anti-racist.
What I believe we did that was so important was we had conversation. It wasn’t always easy conversation; not everyone agreed on everything. Racism is difficult to talk about, but we made ourselves talk about it. We committed to each other that our time together would be safe, even though our conversation would be blunt. At the end of our time together most of us agreed that we wanted to continue our conversation. So we’ll get together in two or three weeks for a reunion and we’ll talk some more and determine how we can affect change in our own little corner of America.
*Question: If you know you have a potentially fatal sickness, how do you treat it?
Douglas King is a member of the Springfield Dominicans Anti-Racism Team and a 25-year resident of Springfield. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.