Merriott column: Systemic racism and our future
With the murder of George Floyd and the accompanying isolation of Covid, I have found myself with way too much time on my hands. I am doing much more introspection, for me and for our country. I have come to some conclusions, but still have more questions than answers and feel a need for constructive dialogue.
First, I think we need to rethink where our systemic racism started. Slavery was not the genesis. No, it started from our displacement of up to 18 million native Americans and the basic theft of their land through treaties that we as a country did not honor.
As someone said to me the other day, “This country was built on stolen land with slave labor. What could possibly go wrong?” If you believe in karma, ours must be bad. We have made mistakes as individuals and as a country and must learn from them going forward.
However, lest we make more egregious mistakes, these changes should be thoughtfully done; with consensus where possible, and where not possible be prepared for real compromise.
Roland McCook, who is a Ute elder and the great-great grandson of Chief Ouray, spoke at the Thunder River Theatre in the Calaway Speakers series, and his stories of what the “white man” did were both educational and heartbreaking. The story that resonated the most with me was how the Ute children would be separated from their families and put in Christian boarding schools!
Can we please just stop building unwanted pipelines across their reservations?
Now, on to the period of slavery, another gloomy time in the history of our country. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the “New World” between 1525 and 1866.
I was surprised by the relative proximity of the number of American Indians who got screwed and the number of blacks who were brought over. When you look at the numbers now, they have gone in vastly different directions.
There are probably close to 5 million American Indians and 40 million black Americans. Let’s face the facts. Most blacks have historically been second-class citizens in our country, but there is nothing we can do about that except make it as right as we can going forward.
Having been raised in Louisiana, gone to a segregated high school and basically a segregated college, I feel I have the background to speak on this subject. Clearly, my black friends did not enjoy the same opportunities I did (see white privilege).
The other part of my life that qualifies me to speak on this subject is that my grandparents took in an orphaned black girl at the age of 4 and raised her as their own. One of my mom’s favorite stories was when Emmet, my grandfather, would ride his horse downtown in Farmerville with all the kids. Someone hollered, “How many kids you got Emmet?” The reply was always four white ones and one black one. Katie was a second mom to me and I mean I loved her that much. She was my family. That said ,when I look back, I still see myself as a red neck racist that went on far too long.
I have visited Mt. Vernon and seen the slave quarters of George Washington. Do not get me wrong, we should have the conversations, but you can’t change history. It can’t be a one size fits all approach, either, and it should focus more on the future than the past.
I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would be extremely disappointed in some of the people protesting George Floyd’s murder. I read yesterday that $1 million in damages was done to our Capitol Building in Denver and it will take months to repair. That kind of radical behavior is totally counterproductive! It pushes people in the opposite direction.
We need strong leadership that seeks to unite us and not to divide us. Many of us are ready for well-thought-out solutions to problems that have been going on by the proverbial turning of the blind eye for years.
I will close by saying that, during daughter Shiloh’s junior year at La Tech, I was meeting with Corre Stegall, the Vice President of University Advancement, and the conversation had turned to black-white relations at the college. Corre said, “Frosty, you don’t need to worry about Shiloh. She does not see color.” So, thank you Alpine Christian Academy, Roaring Fork High School and Carbondale, there is real hope for the future.
Frosty is a CPA, a registered Independent and served as a Carbondale Trustee for 10 years.
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