There are many difficult conversations we encounter in this world, not least of which is about race. Race, or at least ethnicity, has been an issue for several millennia. If you weren’t born to the right tribe during the “pre-historic” era, you were an enemy. Through the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman reigns you were either part of the power structure or you were stepped upon by the power structure. History is rife with demonstrations of one set of people setting themselves above another set of people on just about every continent.
The original Star Trek, broadcast “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” (episode 15 season 3, January 10, 1969). It guest-starred Frank Gorshin, an impressionist whose major claim to fame was the role of the Riddler in the 1960’s spoof, Batman. Nevertheless, this Star Trek episode depicted two survivors of a war-torn planet, each intent upon destroying the other. They held there were profound differences between them; however, the viewer had a difficult time discerning the distinction. Their species had a bifurcated profile, half the face and body white, the other half black. These survivors were the mirror image of one another. The hatred they displayed for one another was based upon this coloration, something invisible to us as observers. Yes, it was the ‘60’s and, depending upon your perspective, we were embroiled or embracing the civil rights movement. This was a timely portrayal of the insanity of prejudice, bias, supremacism, and the associated violence.
Fast-forward half a century to the recent Charlottesville, Virginia battlefield. Again, to the observer, how can this be happening? Why are we still fighting about race? How can hate continue to feed prejudice, bias, supremacism and feed violence? Is this the measure of how far we have not journeyed? I try to comprehend the “why” in back of all situations; this one doesn’t provide me with the balance and logic that I need to process.
How do you talk about race? When someone makes a derogatory, insulting, inflammatory, or just outright wrong reference, do you speak out? Do you convey a gesture of displeasure and disagreement or even disdain for what was conveyed? Do you engage the offender or the offended in dialog related to race? Admittedly, there are more incidents than I wish to concede where I should have spoken out, and didn’t. Not this time. As a college president, I have the floor in blogs such as this. What occurred in Charlottesville warrants our action, if only to denounce it as culturally corrupting. We are a country built on free speech, the exchange of ideas, argument and resolve. Someone may speak hatefully, and be within their rights. We can rebuke their hatred, and be within ours, but more importantly, meeting our responsibility.
Not every problem can be resolved in discussion, but without discussion, no problems can be resolved. Let’s try and make it work, at least in our part of the planet.