EDITORIAL: Let's talk about race

York Dispatch

Black men in York have given us a candid look at the challenges they face as they seek to be seen as more than the stereotypes imposed on them by the social, economic and political systems.

These systems often tip the balance of power in favor of white men — and it has long been this way.

If we are to take meaningful steps forward to a more equal and just society, all sides must come together to help identify and mitigate these challenges.

In city reporter Erin James' Tuesday story "Racism haunts black men," we hear the voices of African-American men sharing their experiences of being treated as inferior by whites in their own communities.

Just because racism has taken on more subtle tones — in the way some react to the election of President Barack Obama or the way some whites respond to encounters with black men, in particular — doesn't mean it's any less detrimental, dangerous even.

And when systemic differences in treatment are added to the mix, in terms of disproportionate arrests for minor crimes like traffic violations, for example, as was recently disclosed in a scathing report on the Ferguson, Missouri, police department, the results can be volatile.

We find our cities are burning when the power of the criminal justice system is for too long used unfairly, or even violently, in such ways against residents of color.

Americans have been talking about race in new ways since Freddie Gray died after being injured while in police custody in Baltimore, and the civil unrest there mirrored the protests in Ferguson, New York and many other cities last year.

But unless we really communicate without the guilt, mistrust — and violence — we won't make the changes necessary to create a truly equal community.

Constructive conversations would include white people seeking to understand the things they say and do and perceptions they have that are seen as racist by their black neighbors. Body language, phrases and actions that are often ingrained in whites continue to encourage the divide.

We have to talk about these things without being defensive or angry. "I don't mean anything by that" doesn't mean it isn't perceived hurtfully by others. It's important to first do no harm with our words and our deeds.

Flying the Confederate flag out of context as opposed to relegating it to historical displays is a timely and vivid example.

One theme we have heard is that the millennial generation, generally speaking those younger than 40, don't feel the need to have conversations about race.

Ostensibly this is because it is a generation more prone to tolerance — and this is true in many ways. But by saying we don't need to talk about race, we are denying the very real problems that create and propagate these hateful and hurtful stereotypes.

It's like saying we are color blind. Do we want to be "blind" about race? Or might it be healthier and more productive to see and respect those differences?

We say it's the latter.

For some, like Allen Jackson, 49, of York City, it is their day-to-day experience that we are far from that equality many in the ongoing civil rights movement have sought for decades. "It's not equal," Jackson said. "Black and white — there is still a big gap ... I would like the world to change and the world to become better off than we are. But we're not. Slavery is still here."

We've got some work to do. Let's keep this conversation going.