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The first step to building a bridge is to listen to those on the other side E-mail
Opinion
Tuesday, 13 February 2018 16:03

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L&T Publisher Earl Watt



A recent conversation on social media helped me understand the chasm of racial relations that has widened in recent years.

My childhood and young adulthood had less racial strife than we have today.

But in this conversation, I learned a few ways we can all help bridge the gap.

I realized that both sides can quickly put up obstacles and point fingers, and that we usually find comfort in ending the conversation rather than trying to find ways to continue it.

One phrase came up often — “you don’t understand.”

This would have been the end of it if I believed that I did understand how African Americans feel, how they perceive history.

The wall was being built quickly.

To keep the door open, I admitted that I don’t understand how an African American feels, and I never will. I can see photos of the abuses of slavery,  but I never will have a relative that will be in those photos. I don’t know the pain of being the descendant of a race that was in bondage only a few generations ago.

For many, that’s what they wanted to hear. They didn’t want to be told how they should feel, and none of us would appreciate that.

I was fortunate to have the upbringing I did that exposed me to black culture in school, in the locker room and at dances.

We listened to each other’s music and found common ground.

That happened right here in Liberal.

It was brought up to me that sports has always been one of the areas where racial harmony has been easier to achieve because we are all on the same team, something I never really considered before. 

There was a time in our history that playing together wasn’t even allowed.

I did speak with some African American Liberal High School players that weren’t allowed to enter some restaurants on away trips bakc int he 1950s. But the white players on the team refused to eat at those restaurants as well.

Liberal has always been a place where more effort has been made on building bridges than in tearing them down.

Make no mistake, racism still exists here. I’m under no delusion that we have mastered racial relations.

But we are further down the road than a lot of other places.

And still there is a feeling that we don’t quite understand each other here.

I can’t fix the past, even if I accepted everything that was being shared with me by those who see American history much differently than I do.

But I noticed that the resistance started to come down when I was willing to listen to the concerns.

The first obstacle we had to cross was learning that I am not the enemy, and they were not mine.

What was being asked of me was not some major social demands or reparations, although like every issue, I’m sure there are some extremists that would feel that way, just like there are some knuckleheads who still believe that one skin color is better than another.

All they really wanted from me was to listen, to be sympathetic to their concerns, and to share with others how they feel.

Imagine if you were looked at with suspicion in an elevator because of the color of your skin, or if you were denied a job 10 times in a row for a worker of another color. I would like to believe that these never happen, but the truth is they still do.

When you feel that way, every arrest will always be a question, every time you are rejected, you will wonder if it had to do with your color.

I’ve never felt like I was denied something because of my color. I’ve never felt like I was pulled over because of my color.

It doesn’t matter whether it is true or not, what matters is the feeling is real, and there is a perception that the feeling is somehow wrong.

While I believe we have come a long way, these feelings of hurt have to be addressed.

There are still lawbreakers of every color, and always will be.

But we can’t judge an entire race based on the lawbreakers, nor can we judge an entire race based on the racist comments of a few.

As we continued to share, we found a lot more common ground than obstacles.

We found it was much easier to be friends than enemies.

This month, we are celebrating Black History Month.

At the end of the month there will be two community events. 

At 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb 24, there will be a Rosa Parks Scholarship Banquet in the meeting rooms at Seward County Community College.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, a Black History Community Choir Gospel Concert will take place at the Bible Way Church of God in Christ at 410 E. Eighth Street.

More importantly than saying anything, I would ask that we attend these events and simply listen. We have to reach out to one another, to show respect for our differences to truly become the united community we can be.

And we don’t have to talk to try to convince, and we don’t have to listen to be convinced. We have to listen to show we care.

If we truly believe in the American Dream, and if we believe in Martin Luther King’s dream, then we have to be willing to listen.

More than anything I could have done to show that I wanted to understand the concerns of the African American community was to simply ask them to tell me how we can join arm in arm and walk forward together.

You might be surprised to learn that was all that was asked of me — to listen and to be willing to share stories of the positive impact of the African American community.

This month and all year, I would ask that we all start to listen a little more to those who may not have the same perception of history, and maybe, just maybe, we can learn that we aren’t so different after all.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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