Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Race relations in Durham hindered by an unwillingness to listen

What happens when people can’t listen?

It’s the first step on a journey into dangerous territory.  Race relations in Durham are taking a radical swing in the wrong direction.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  The trend could shift if people would think before jumping to conclusions.

That applies to everyone.

In my recent blog (The People’s Alliance racist ways not viewed as racist), I suggested the actions of the People’s Alliance, a prominent political group in Durham, are perceived as racist by many within Durham’s black community.  I was careful to state that those actions are not intended to be racist.

Defenders of the People’s Alliance quickly blamed me for pulling the race card.

“Everything appears to be based on race to you,” an anonymous reader responded. “Until we can move past that, there will be no harmony in Durham.”

“It seems you are making very unfair and even dangerous assumptions fanning flames that aren’t there,” the reader continues.  Is it unfair to expose perceptions, and to note how those perceptions are hindering race relations in Durham?  Would it be best not to talk about race because of how it makes people feel uncomfortable, or are we better served by exposing the budding of problems that can be checked if people would simply listen?

The hope of my posts related to race issues in Durham is to build a bridge broken by assumption on both sides of the river.  Critics of my recent post fail to understand the deep implications attached to the conclusion of their attack – you shouldn’t talk about race.  You should refrain from discussing race matters even when a community is being fractured due to a lack of understanding.

People should take a pause in defending what they can’t change.  I’ve indicated the issue at hand is due to a perception.  Never has it been implied that the People’s Alliance is a racist organization.  What is clear, given comments I’ve received from black leaders in Durham, is a deep perception that the People’s Alliance functions with little regard to how their actions impact blacks in Durham.

That perception can’t be fixed if leaders of the People’s Alliance continue to defend what is rooted in perception.  The point is not to prove a point, but to listen to those who feel alienated by their actions.  The People’s Alliance should be asking, “What can we do to hear what you feel? How can we improve upon creating an environment that isn’t perceived as racist?”

Rather than asking those questions, the response has been a counter-attack.  I’ve heard the defense, “members of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People do the same thing”.  I’ve heard, “It’s not us, it’s you.”  There is validity to both assertions; however, the response of members of the black community is rooted in a history of oppression, not privilege.

Members of the People’s Alliance have stood by the position that they have an open membership, and that the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People is racist due to not allowing white participation. That response negates the historical significance of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, and the fact that the organization continues to function to honor and protect the cause of blacks in Durham.  Negating the significance of that role is perceived as racist.

It is perceived as racist, again I say perceived, when a person attacks a black person for raising the issue of racism.  This is most notable when the purpose behind raising the issues is to foster dialogue, understanding and reconciliation.  In attacking a blog that attempted to communicate from a place in the middle, defenders of the People’s Alliance have communicated a troubling trend. That trend gets at the heart of race matters in Durham – that there is no place to truly talk about race in a way that moves the community past the tension created by undo perception.

The People’s Alliance claims to be group that represents all the citizens of Durham.  It’s clear they seek to be that place, but their response to matters involving race make it clear they are not prepared to do the hard work to fulfill that mission.  Community can’t be built when people refuse to listen.  That “we don’t care what you think” attitude feeds into the perception that many have about white liberals.

It would help if white liberals had the benefit of conversations black people have when they are not around to listen.  The problem isn’t limited to the ways of white liberals.  It’s the lack of a real conversation that limits progress.  It would help if white liberals would think before they speak.

The defenders of the People’s Alliance’s agenda show up on my Facebook page.  Sometimes it’s hard to read what they say.  Their comments expose conversations people have behind closed doors, and how so much of what they think is based on perceptions.

“There are many reasons to distrust the 751 Developers, including the formation of Durham’s first “Super PAC” and their gifting of a Toyota Prius to all the 2012 candidates for the Durham County Commissioners who were flexible on the 751 South Development,” Dov Rosenberg wrote.” Naturally, the Durham People’s Alliance didn’t endorse any candidate who received free cars from the 751 South Developers.”

Rosenberg’s outlandish reaction fuels the perception black people have of the People’s Alliance.  Is it racist? No. Does it have racial implications? Yes. Why? Because those who are accused of receiving cars for support are all black, and the People’s Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People are at war due to perceptions involving race.

Many of my readers may not like the truth, but it’s something that must be heard.  If not, expect a city divided even more due to race.

As I said in my previous blog, Durham can’t afford to move backwards. Too much hard work has gone into becoming a tolerant city.  You can’t move forward if you refuse to listen.

Don’t blame me. I’m simply the messenger of the truth.

Deal with it!


  1. that all things are equal, if you are black (and, therefore, from a history of oppression), then your actions (even when racist against non-AA people) are justified; but if you are white (and, therefore, supposedly from privilege), then any actions that oppose the opinions of the DCABP are racist (albeit often unintentionally so). It is this kind of thinking that will keep progressives, regardless of color, from moving Durham past racism. Then again, if we successfully eliminate race/racism, many will have no foundation on which to base their arguments...perhaps this is what they are afraid of.

    1. I've indicated that the actions of both blacks and whites are unjustified. The lack of communication has bearing for both blacks and whites. You are playing the game I suggested in this blog - using the argument that since they do it, what is wrong if we do the same. Go deeper in your reading of my post. There is no place where I've suggested the actions of blacks is justified. You are attempting to invalidate my point by proving the erros of blacks. Try again.

  2. I saw some of this fraction during the presidential campaign here in durham, and yes both sides of the argument were working from points of Priviledge. some of the old guard were frustrated by lack of respect for their trailblazing work and some of the new guard wanted more voice and unity. These arguments have been out there for many years. I was really hoping meaningful dialogue on these issues would occur during occupy and other recent movements. Maybe it will happen in 2013. And maybe across many divides so we can build a powerful progressive movement throughout the state. One that mobilizes the energy and passion of the youth and at the same time reveres the wisdom of the elderly.

  3. You should do a blog about how we can communicate with someone who refuses to comprehend the difference between disagreement and "not listening". We hear you, we just don't agree with you. Your failure to get more people to agree with you has nothing to do with their listening skills. It has far more to do with the weakness of your arguments.

    1. It's difficult for me to understand disagreement related to a challenge for both sides to listen due to perceptions. My argument is that we can move past this growing divide with serious communication. The other option is to fight. Is that your desire?

  4. With regard to anonymous 1's post...I agree that Carl seems to be blaming 'white liberals' while absolving African American people/groups who disagree with said white liberals (whom he equates to the PA). He also presumes that everyone who disagrees with him is, by default, a PA supporter and a likely PA member. If Carl is truly placing reponsibility on both 'sides', then why do his statements (aside from a few acquiescent nods regarding white folks' concerns with the DCABP) solely target the PA and 'white liberals'? Why doesn't he discuss the obvious race baiting that extremist DCABP members like Wagstaff (note that I recognize not all DCABP members are extremists) certainly appear to rely on. Black, non-PA people actually dosagree with Wagstaff's and Carl's views as well. Isn't stereotyping them as 'white liberals' unintentionally racist? I'm taking a break from these circuitous discussions.

  5. P.S. And, by pointing out the faults of a certain DCABP faction, I am by no means saying, "well, they do it why not us?" I am merely underscoring the obvious bias in Carl's blogs.

    I believe the PA and those whom Carl calls 'white liberals' are truly trying to make decisions that are not fogged by racist glasses ( in any direction ). I do not believe the same of Wagstaff and her at-all-costs supporters; she and her staunch supporters show time and time again that they simply cannot consider an issue without imposing racism upon it, whether or not it is warranted. It is this lack of objectivity that is hurting communication efforts in Durham (and elsewhere). People were saying that I was unintentionally racist bc I opposed Beasley...but, now that he has taken money from the special interests from which he swore he would remainin independent, no one has apologized for the insult paid me for simply seeing through Beasley's guise.

    1. I'm not raising faults as much as the perception of fault and an unwillingness to consider those perceptions. My issues regarding the DCABP are on record. I have noted those concerns since 1999 while writing for the Herald-Sun. My concern now involves race relations. I'm not critical of the PA policy as much as an unwillingness to listen to what is being said. Fault can be found with the DCABP. Read what I have written

  6. There is more to this place called Durham than can be described with a palette limited to only the color black. How can a reasonable person consider an organization credible if its goal is political influence and it limits its membership by race -- any race?

    Your 'truth' may not be accepted as 'truth' ti those with a broader view. Perhaps there is too many talking, and not enough listening. Given the new political leadership in one of the groups, that's a likely outcome.

    1. I have long been on record that the DCABP should open membership to all people. That is one of the things black people need to listen to as we move forward.

  7. Carl you are quoting people who do not have authority to speak for the People's Alliance and are in no such leadership position. I don't feel these broad generalizations and accusations will not bring the groups closer together but continue to divide. Is that your goal?

    I DO agree that leadership from BOTH SIDES have to put forth a real effort to collaborate on issues and move past this divide. It is a two way street and I hope that members from both committees will come together to work to solve some of Durham's big problems, together. I believe the GOP and has successfully helped to divided the groups - they know that we are less powerful when we work together.

    1. My desire is for both sides to listen, meet and form a plan based on common interest

  8. Carl: You
    You’ve committed the Cardinal Sin of questioning the accepted narrative that we here in Durham are unique in our ability to come together over difficult issues. You must not have gotten the memo that directs all Durhamites to pretend that if racial issues ever existed they were minor and anyway we solved all those problems years ago. By calling for reality based dialogue you are implying that we have a problem. I’ll see if I can find my copy of that memo and forward it to you.
    Remember the saying “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…..” ? “Racism is as racism does”. “The proof is in the pudding” etc., etc.
    By definition Black folks in America can’t be racist. Local Durham Truth Minista Paul Scott says it very well on his blog “No Warning Shots Fired”
    Here is Scott’s explanation of why Black folks can’t be racist:
    African Americans can be many things: thugs, gangsta's, Republicans, etc. But the one thing that we cannot be is racist. Although most people define racism as hatred for people of a different race, a more functional definition would be having the power to enforce that hatred socially, politically and economically. And last time I checked, Black people did not possess that kind of juice.
    So, all you LIBRULS and PROGRESSIVES out there, you may not like what Ms. Wagstaff says, you may not like what the Committee does, but by calling their actions/words racist (or reverse racism) you are simply wrong. Furthermore, what you are trying to do is to deny the historical environment we live in while dishonestly painting yourselves as victims of those bad Black folks who just won’t accept “reality” as you perceive it.
    So, Carl, I know you’re a minister and it is part of your DNA to try to find a way to bring people together and I really do appreciate that about you. However, sometimes you have to call something what it is: and the liberal/progressives in Durham by doing the work that the Klan used to do (i.e. keeping black folks in their place) are RACISTS! After all “A man is judged by his deeds, not by his words” – Russian Proverb.
    ( I hope my honesty doesn’t get this post excluded from your comment section. If you must you have my permission to print R****TS like you would the N word)
    In Durham we are faced with perceptions derived from the historical and class differences between groups of people. To deny this is just is worse than just ignorant: it is self-serving.
    Here’s how you bring people together:
    1. Everybody needs to grow a thicker skin. Acting like a baby who didn’t get his bottle right on time demeans everyone.
    2. Stop denying that race is a problem and deal with it directly and honestly. And don’t get all bent out of shape if someone calls you a racist. Like my mother told me when I was a kid “If it isn’t true why are you making such a fuss about it?” As the Bard said: “Me Thinks He Doth Protest Too Much”.

    3. Remember that calling your opponents cheats and liars is no way to make friends. You’re going to need their support on the next issue that comes down the pike so take a deep breath before you lay into them.
    4. Listen – I mean REALLY LISTEN – to what your opponent is saying.
    5. Be gracious in defeat: Whiny sore losers (especially privileged White liberals) is unappealing and counterproductive.

    Steven Matherly
    Durham, NC

    1. R u kidding me? Durham's mayor is AA (African American). The majority of the board of county commissioners are AA. The city's lead attorney is AA. Th county's lead attorney is AA. Durham's Superintendent and his chief of staff are AA, as well as many assistant superintendents. How many positions of authority do AA people need before you will admit they have any power or political clout? Your arguments are nonsense. You are basically saying, 'if you are black, you can do no wrong.' And to equate progressives and 'liberals' to the Klan is downright ridiculous and only proves your lack of reason. Your ancestors are rolling over in their graves.

    2. There's no doubt some blacks have political clout, not because they are black but because they have needed and electable skills. Remember, there are more white voters in the city and the county than there are black ones, so these elected officials had multi racial backing.

      What is not being addressed very will is that what has to be done to lift those who are disadvantaged to the place where they can become productive citizens. Is it schooling to help the next generation? A culture that prevents integration of values? It's too easy to cry 'race' and to demand that we 'listen'. Show us the 'money', where money in this context means identify real problems and offer real solutions.

    3. ""Although most people define racism as hatred for people of a different race, a more functional definition would be having the power to enforce that hatred socially, politically and economically."

      Do we now change all definitions into something more in line with our political or personal beliefs? Do words no longer mean anything? The absurdity of Paul Scott's quoted statment reveals a lack of history or world knowledge (and, yes, I have read his complete defense of his re-interpretation).

      As others have pointed out, we have a black mayor, black majorities on the City Council and County Commissioners, a black school superintendent, a Latino police chief, and black leadership on numerous public commissions. All elected in a city/county with a white majority. Well, we white liberals have certainly kept blacks "in their place."

      By the way, your use of hip-hop terms and spelling (Libruls, Minista, etc.) does nothing to support your intellectual credibility, only to enforce that you really are speaking to an echo chamber of those who share your prejudices.

      Those of us who are both hurt and offended by being called "racist" for merely disagreeing with statements by Wagstaff or DCABP are most likely to be the ones that voted for blacks in public office or have worked on improving the lot of citizens in our community. Are we the ones you really want to offend?

      I do not belong to either the PA or DCABP or to any other PAC, so I don't have a stake in the organizational infighting discussed here. I am a citizen of Durham who wants to see continued improvements for all people in our community, however. Matherly and Wagstaff's polarizing comments only make my job harder.

      Perceptions work both ways.

  9. So how do we start a productive conversation?

    I am an unaffiliated voter and I avoid all PACs (super or small). I will say that I do use the the info on the PA website (those lengthy questionnaires that the candidates fill out) to help me make my choices when I vote, but I don't pay much attention to who gets an endorsement because I feel sometimes good candidates get overlooked.

    But I feel the issue here goes beyond politics.

    So how can we start the conversation?