LETTER: More friendships between races will encourage empathy, understanding

Thursday, March 4, 2010 | 12:16 p.m. CST; updated 3:52 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 4, 2010

If, as some articles have suggested, the noose/"Compton Cookout" incidents (and perhaps this cotton incident?) are in response to Black History Month, what I find to be the most troublesome element of this phenomenon is the casualness with which people are committing these acts.

I am happy to say that most people I know do not take such acts so casually, but there is a definite element in non-black (not just white) society that does. The last sentence of an L.A. Times article written by Larry Gordon and published last Thursday referred to the head of the Campus Republicans at University of California San Diego: "Feltscher, who called UCSD an 'extreme leftist' school, said she was concerned that the recent events could reinforce an atmosphere of political correctness on campus."

If "political correctness" means taking into account the rights and feelings of others before speaking, what is wrong with "political correctness"? And how are we going to promote discussion between people of seemingly opposing viewpoints in an atmosphere of "political incorrectness"? Honesty and directness are important — personally, I strive to be very much both; but they do not oppose the definition I gave here for "political correctness."

An example of the casualness I am concerned with: I interact with one group of people (not at the University of Missouri) periodically who at times challenge my ability to promote civil discourse with them. The vast majority of the time they seem to be extremely nice, civil people. But a few years ago, around the time of Martin Luther King Jr. day, one of them referred to how they got the day off work "in order to celebrate my black heritage" and they all laughed.

The casualness of this comment indicated to me that this was not something I would easily be able to discuss with them. The content of this comment infuriated me and I quietly mentioned why I believed Martin Luther King Jr. to be important to us all — with a resulting silence. I have since ceased to reply to such comments by them, but I do (probably noticeably) choose to leave the room at such times. Martin Luther King Jr. is not just an important figure in black history. He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest leaders and role models in all of history and all Americans need to appreciate his contribution to healthy civil disobedience, civil discourse and appreciation of ALL cultures. Yet some non-black people continue to view Martin Luther King Jr. as a figure in black history, not a figure in American history, and then that seems to be reason enough for them to not connect with him or appreciate him.

I personally think that we need more friendships between black people and white people in order to create greater empathy and understanding between them. When I walk around campus, I see people self-segregating to a great extent. While I understand the desire to form friendships with people who are culturally like ourselves, I don't understand why when I initiate conversations with black people (this does happen with other racial groups but perhaps not as much), I sometimes feel like they really don't want to talk with me or any other white person for that matter. I strongly suspect black people feel this from white people too (I don't know for sure, obviously). I think this needs to be overcome in order to create any real positive change.

How both black people and white people respond to this issue at this time is extremely important.

My hope is we achieve Dr. King's goal "where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers."

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