On forgiveness, race fatigue and righteous anger


Edward and Jane Howard, who married in 1954 before laws against intermarriage were struck down in 1967, were pioneers of race unity.

In the wake of another senseless incident of racial violence the majority of Americans are sagging their heads in desperation, rubbing their hearts to assuage the pain of a wound that will not heal, saying, “I can’t do this anymore.” Terroracism has the whole nation firmly in its grip. And the media, well…the media which we watch feverishly for some crumb of understanding, will find its focus where it will. It will magnify seemingly random soundbites and often ignore the greater question.

The point is not whether some almost saintly black people can forgive the misdeeds of the gunman. That should not be our focus in this moment. As sublime and awe inspiring as that may be, that should not be our national discourse in the face of this event. The question is how angry should the rest of us be that this can happen, that there are others waiting in the shadows to commit the same atrocity upon black innocent people. And that we should be powerless to deter it, and have to watch it. Again.

When will we, the silent majority, take to the streets and march in the name of race unity? When will we decide to show by force of numbers that the evil minority does not speak in our name? That we have turned the tide of our country? I do not know how many racist still exist, too many for sure. But they are a small number compared to those of us who have rejected for all time this malignant ideology, who do not want this cancer in our body politic, who have seen and believed the evidence of science that the human race is one species with infinite variation, who want to live in peace and freedom from prejudice.

Whether or not these nice black people can forgive a satanic individual is a personal matter that should be left to them. There are some people who are highly evolved and follow the Christian teaching of “turn the other cheek.” But that should not be the attitude of the state, whose duty it is to exact justice. Neither should it be the attitude of the rest of us, who should be thinking of the future, taking systematic measures to prevent the other domestic terrorists that lurk in the shadows, plotting similar actions. The terror they inflict on the black population of this country, who cannot even attend church without fearing for their lives, who cannot send their teenage sons out on the street without fearing for their safety, that should be our concern.

For the media to play up the “forgiveness story” of these modern day lynchings only serves to appease our apprehension of an all out race war, our fear of full scale riots by the madding crowd. It is a sinister news angle that does nothing to address the underlying problem.

The reality is that we must root out the language, the symbols, the vestiges and the remnants of racism from our culture. Forget free speech. Your freedom of speech ends where my safety is infringed on. If Germany can make it illegal to display swasticas then we can make it illegal to own klu klux clan paraphernalia, to name our boulevards after slavery defending generals, to wave their flag from our public buildings. We must speak out against racist conversations, race baiting, race bashing, reverse racism, institutional racism and colorism. We’ve got to embrace our mixed nation, praise our abolitionists, expose our history, both the egregious and the noble, let go of our lost cause narrative, show that in the main, we are a great people, struggling to get to the promised land.

Our self defense against terroracism should be decisive, systematic and strategic, aimed at protecting our country and everyone in it. Racists in power should be exposed like naked kings, whether they are policemen, administrators, senators or media commentators. Racism, whether veiled or overt, should be out of fashion, out of favor, and frowned upon.

And still this will not be enough.

To truly heal our nation we must walk the path of race unity, forging lasting friendships, overcoming denial, abandoning mistrust, giving up that unconscious sense of superiority, rooting out that learned sense of inferiority. We must intermarry, have mixed race children with multiple allegiances, who can feel the unity in their own skin. In order “to live out the true meaning of our creed,” we still have much work ahead. But let’s get at it, let’s not give up, nor give in to despair. Let’s not forgive, nor be afraid. Like all true Americans, let’s forge the society we want, let’s pioneer the country we want to live in.

About rheaharmsen

Rhea Harmsen is a scientist, novelist and author of Language of the Spirit, a volume of selected poems. She has also released three novels, The Harvest of Reason, Intermarry, and God Created Women. Harmsen was born in a family with a black father and a white mother at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. Her parents gave her a vision of world citizenship that informs her writing and her lifestyle and has caused her to reject traditional views of race and gender. Harmsen's article "Science in the Hands of Women: Present Barriers, Future Promise" appeared in World Order in 1998 and provides the foundation for the story line for her novel The Harvest of Reason. She co-published the Monroeville Race Unity Forum Bulletin and authored many poems on racial topics, crystallizing the "conversation on race" in the novel Intermarry. Her work with domestic violence survivors in Puerto Rico inspired the novel God Created Women. Harmsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently resides in Puerto Rico. Upcomming projects are described in her web page at rheaharmsen.com
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