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!