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With liberty, justice for all

January 19, 2013

By BROTHER ROGERS

On this upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, what is the state of race relations?

As usual, where you stand depends on where you sit. At first glance, the news is not so good. Upon closer examination, we are making progress.

In a column last month, I wrote about the need for blacks and whites to interact more as friends and neighbors. One of my readers responded by email, “Move to a predominantly black neighborhood and get back with me on your opinions of blacks in large groups. See how they treat you and your family. You will quickly understand why most sane white people want to live around just white people.”

I asked that reader to submit his words as a letter to the editor. He would not because he realized how out of touch those views are in 2013. That is the good news. We haven’t eliminated racism and never will. But what used to be fashionable is now considered unacceptable by the majority.

In December, a white player from the University of North Alabama football team tweeted “Take that (racial slur) off the tv, we wanna watch football!” in response to NBC pre-empting Sunday Night Football to broadcast President Obama’s speech at the memorial for victims of the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The fact that a college student would send such as message is regrettable. The good news is the reaction. His coach kicked him off the football team. The UNA president called his comments “absolutely deplorable” and said “that one of our students should utter such racial venom is completely unacceptable.”

On Jan. 4, 2013, the Clarion-Ledger reported that six young men from Rankin County admitted in court that they were part of a group who regularly came to Jackson in 2011 and 2012 to harass African Americans. These hate crimes took place even after an innocent black man was killed in Jackson by rowdy white teenagers in a hit-and-run captured by a motel’s security camera.

There was a time during my lifetime when these hate crimes might have gone unreported or been dismissed. Today, the perpetrators have been caught and will be punished by the criminal justice system.

These slurs and crimes demonstrate that racism is still with us. Laws have changed, but prejudice cannot be outlawed by government. It is particularly upsetting to see members of a new generation engaging in such despicable behavior. Unfortunately, there is still much work to be done in our homes, our churches and our schools.

These incidents and others like them are one of the reasons it is important to have a holiday honoring the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was the leader of a moral and political movement that transformed America, especially the South, from a place where racism was commonly accepted to a place where such behavior is now appropriately condemned. Racism has always been wrong, but it took Dr. King and the movement he led to finally teach America this important truth.

Each generation must learn anew the American values of liberty and justice for all. While we are still struggling to live up to these values, we are doing better than ever before. If we want to bring about change, it has to start with us. As the song says, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

William “Brother” Rogers lives in Starkville and works with the Stennis Center for Public Service. Contact him at brother@stennis.gov.

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