How does one re-educate an American racist?: Phillip Morris

January 16, 2019

How does one re-educate an American racist?: Phillip Morris

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- I routinely hear from white supremacists.

Their handwritten notes rarely come with return addresses. The calls – usually from restricted phone numbers – are left on voicemail late at night. The contact isn’t meant to launch a dialogue. I’m merely a convenient target to vent some racial hatred.

One particular caller has dogged me for years. Depending on his sobriety, he starts the call with a semi-polite tone. If he’s drunk, the salutation is simply, “hey nigger.”

The content of his message never deviates. He shares his conclusion that African-Americans and Hispanics are the root causes of most of America’s social ills. Although he occasionally slips anti-Semitism into his diatribe, his unwavering wish is that people of color would somehow cease to be a part of the American experience. He always concludes his calls with a crescendo of racial slurs and profanity and signs off by telling me he’s thankful that he was born a white man.

I used to replay some of his messages for one of my Irish-American editors. My editor would flush crimson at the verbal ignorance on display and more than once cynically told me he would understand if I wanted to encounter this unknown caller in a back alley.

The truth of the matter is I wish the caller no ill will. His ignorance and hatred are not my toxic burden to bear. It is not my responsibility or concern to proselytize an avowed supremacist who hates others simply for the color of their skin.

But, should it be? Who’s actually responsible for confronting, challenging and seeking to reform such dangerous American ignorance?

I thought of this particular caller this week after reading a opinion piece by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Scott, the only African-American Republican in the U.S. Senate, wrote a remarkable essay denouncing Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who recently publicly questioned why the doctrine of white supremacy is considered offensive.

King is a racist. He has a long history of advancing white supremacist notions and spewing racially inflammatory rhetoric. Curiously, he is now being called out by his own party that realizes that his views are dangerously out-of-sync with the nation. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has suggested that King “find another line of work.”

But, it was Scott who became the racial conscience of his party when he wrote the following in an op-ed published in The Washington Post Monday:

“…Silence is no longer acceptable. It is tempting to write King — or other extremists on race issues, such as black-nationalist Louis Farrakhan — as lonely voices in the wilderness, but they are far more dangerous than that. They continue to rip at the fabric of our nation, a country built on hope, strength and diversity. It is the opposite of civility and fairness and will lead only to more pain and suffering.”

“We must work to lead our nation forward. In the future, I hope Steve King takes the opportunity to join us.”

I was fascinated by Scott’s belief that King could change his views and work toward a less racially divisive America. I disagree. King has disqualified himself from a seat at the table.

But, what about our children? When do we give up on them?

Here at home, I had extremely mixed feelings when it was announced last week that Shaker Heights High School was leaving the Greater Cleveland Conference (GCC) for a number of reasons, including scheduling, transportation, and cost.

Another disturbing reason for the sports conference defection was also offered.

Black student-athletes reportedly have dealt with reoccurring instances when they were the subject of racial slurs while competing against certain schools in the GCC that have an overwhelmingly white student population.

In announcing the decision to change conferences in 2020, the school wrote:

“While our student-athletes have dealt with each of these incidents in a remarkably poised way, it is something that must be given serious consideration when making a decision about conference affiliation. The lack of diversity and cultural sensitivity in some of the communities in the GCC is a real concern,” read the statement.

Sports remains one of the most powerful forms of social currencies in America. Sports is capable of uniting diverse communities and people with vastly different perspectives and life experiences. That is why it is so sad to hear that a progressive school district such as Shaker Heights believes that the level of racial disrespect allegedly advanced in some venues make a sporting relationship in the GCC untenable.

Perhaps it’s the silence and complicity of adults that led to this disconcerting outcome. Somehow, there must be a way to improve relations among the young – rather than just abandoning relations.

If we can’t get our children to play together in peace in 2019, what hope do we have for our future high school sporting leagues – not to mention our future United States congresses.

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