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Allen Johnson: The backlash to fighting racism

Allen Johnson: The backlash to fighting racism

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There are a few yard signs in my neighborhood that picture two hands, one white and one Black, touching fingertips to form the shape of a heart.

And above them are two words in bold type: “It’s Time.”

It’s time, the signs say, “to end racism.”

I was pleasantly surprised the first time I saw the signs, which continue to hold their own in a growing sea of “Trump-Pence” and “Biden-Harris” signs — and one humongous Trump flag ironically proclaiming, “Promises Made. Promises Kept.”

The “It’s Time” signs grew out of an ongoing effort by two local churches — one Black and one white — to have an honest conversation about race.

Fifty members of West Market Street United Methodist Church and St. Matthews United Methodist Church stepped forward to begin those conversations in 2018.

When COVID-19 shelved plans for activities this year that included a trip to Alabama, home of a haunting — and overdue — new memorial to U.S. lynching victims, they decided to plant the signs instead.

They make a quiet and powerful statement. We could use more of them.

When the nation seemed shaken out of its complacency about race following the horrific death of George Floyd under a policeman’s knee in Minneapolis on May 25, I held faint hope that this time might be different.

But I also recalled America’s penchant for following every attempt to move forward on race with an inevitable backlash.

And, well, here it is.

After George Floyd came Jacob Blake and Daniel Prude. And even the most quiet and respectful acknowledgments that something is not right often get an ugly reception.

On Sept. 10, fans booed Black and white NFL players who locked arms in racial solidarity before the first game of the season in Kansas City.

“Don’t blame them for being tired of NFL/corporate woke politics jammed down their throats,” Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, tweeted in defense of those poor, put-upon fans.

But this only seemed to be a harbinger of things to come.

There is the deeply disappointing decision by a Kentucky grand jury last week in the Breonna Taylor shooting to indict only one of three police officers … for firing into the wall of an apartment of a neighbor, not killing Taylor with five shots.

If this is following the law, then the law needs changing.

Picture yourself at home in bed after midnight and someone knocks your door off the hinges and barges in, weapons drawn. Would you, as a legally licensed gun owner, try to defend yourself, as Taylor's boyfriend did?

Would you be justified?

Consider also that neither Taylor nor her boyfriend was under investigation and that police were in the wrong place to begin with.

Ask yourself, why aren’t the champions of Second Amendment rights rallying to the side of Taylor’s family? And ask yourself, if this kind of thing is allowed to happen with zero accountability, are any of us safe?

Meanwhile, there have been protests nationwide and now new ones in the wake of the Taylor decision.

But little substantively has changed. Somehow a constructive dialogue about abuses in law enforcement has turned into a false dichotomy of being either for police or against them.

Or in the twisted vernacular of Donald Trump: Police good. Protesters bad.

Making matters even worse, the Trump administration has reacted to the issue of systemic racism in the country by arguing that it doesn’t exist. The president recently ordered aides to overhaul racial sensitivity training at federal agencies. Any references to “white privilege” are now forbidden.

And in a speech on Sept. 17 at the National Archives, Trump claimed that school children are being “fed lies about America being a wicked nation plagued by racism.”

Trump, who keeps contending that he has done more for Black Americans than any president except Abraham Lincoln, also calls Black Lives Matter “a hate group” even as he embraces Confederate monuments and praised the armed white militants who entered the Michigan Capitol.

Oh, and by the way, all the unrest in American cities on Trump's watch is Joe Biden’s fault.

So, here we are. Uncle Ben is coming off rice packages and Aunt Jemima off boxes of pancake mix and bottles of syrup. NBA players are wearing social justice phrases on their jerseys.

But we’re still not talking. And nothing has changed.

That’s why those little signs in front yards give me at least a sliver of hope. So does a group of men I’ve joined, three white, three Black, all from Greensboro, who meet periodically for glasses of wine and difficult discussions.

So does a white classmate from my days at Dudley High, who reached out recently to share his concerns that faith communities of all races need to do more. Greg Mesimore is a pastor on the Chicago area who, with his wife, has marched in the streets with protesters.

To be sure, Making America Great (for real, not as a slogan) will require some giant leaps.

But it also will take some small steps as well, person to person.

It’s Time.

Actually, It’s Past Time.

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