Sat, May

United in Hope and Prayer for Our Racist Society


FROM CHARLOTTESVILLE TO OUR OWN BACKYARDS-To address the latest act of senseless racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, people of good will across the country came together on Sunday, August 13 to show solidarity, trying to formulate positive actions to stop these senseless acts from occurring in the future. 

In Los Angeles, one such event was held at the Holman Methodist Church on West Adams where Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other believers and non-believers held an "interfaith prayer vigil." This ad hoc interfaith, interracial congregation came “to celebrate...what America is really about." The religious leaders there represented different faith traditions and all expressed in one way or another the importance of recognizing the "transcendent nature of active love" in combating mindless violence. 

I must confess I felt like I had been transported in a time capsule back to the 1960s…the fight against the Vietnam War, along with the still unfulfilled promises of the Civil Rights movement of that long-ago era. One thing was painfully clear to me: if we allow ourselves to be honest when it comes to dealing with virulent racism in this country, not only have we not achieved parity between the races, but by almost every measure, we are worse off today than at the beginning of the movement. The difference now is, we don't talk about it honestly enough. We have replaced a continuing racist reality with alternative facts parroted by the corporate-controlled news media. 

Frankly, I don't think the peaceful actions and the love expressed at Holman Methodist and elsewhere will be enough to make a measurable difference. Not when it comes to dealing with the unabated racist violence that seems more prevalent and empowered since the election of Donald Trump. 

While it may not seem immediately relevant to the Charlottesville events, I believe we must look at the purposeful defunding and failure of public education over the last 40 years as a major cause of the violence we have witnessed. Failed public education has created a level of ignorance in both the racists and their victims, making it difficult to take viable actions to achieve solutions. There will always be people who argue whether or not two and two is always four. Believing that might require them to change what they have always believed. 

On Sunday here in LA, a simple story from the Talmud was used by Rabbi Sharon Brous to illustrate the necessity of being able to think from different perspectives, over time. In her story, a stolen beam is used to build the foundation of a house. Generations later, when this is subsequently discovered, what should be done? Should the house be torn down to retrieve the beam? Should the owners of the house be required to pay the fair market value of the beam? Do we just ignore that it was stolen? Or do we figure in the consequential damages? 

What if, instead of talking about a beam, we are really talking about a slave who whose descendants are free citizens but are still impacted by the initial theft? How do we compensate them without doing damage to innocent heirs of the house (or country)? How do we hold accountable the original ancestor who stole the beam? Are the heirs truly innocent? If not, what would be a reasonable resolution for all? 

Without the historical context that an excellent public education might offer, every issue we deal with relating to achieving racial equity and social justice degrades into polemics. Neither side is willing to give an inch nor show empathy for the opposition, even if doing so might allow a solution that both could live with. 

An uneducated, racially insensitive mentality is incapable of seeing how a statue of General Robert E. Lee might be offensive to those whose ancestors were enslaved under a system that Lee defended during the Civil War – a system which continues to deprive African Americans of their equal rights to this day. Is it the statue of Lee that is most offensive or is it the normalized non-historic context of the park where it was located? One wonders what reaction those against its removal would have if there was also a statue of Rosa Parks? 

If I had to point to one event that continues to foster racial inequity of our society, it is the failure to implement the desegregation of public schools mandated by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education. Supposedly it became the law in 1954, but promptly was ignored when subsequent rulings gutted it. Just witness the fact that a school district like LAUSD remains over 90% Latino and Black. But this truth never sees the light of day in the media or elsewhere. 

It is my belief that familiarity doesn't breed contempt. Rather, it breeds a social environment and interaction that makes it impossible to harbor racial fantasies -- animus that continues to plague our de facto segregated society.


(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com.  Leonard can be reached at [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


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