Let’s get this straight up front.
To the best of my knowledge, I’m not a racist - not a bigot - not anti-Semitic - not opposed to how most folks live their lives or with whom. Around our house, it’s “live and let live.”
But, the other evening, something occurred during a news-talk program that brought on a slow boil.
Under discussion were the travails of Virginia Gov. Robert Northam. He’d been accused of posing in either blackface or a KKK outfit during graduation hoorah’s from medical school. At that moment, he had not admitted to being one of the figures in the picture but had profusely apologized for what it represented. As well he should have. But, the story was only a couple of hours old. More details would come.
The panelists on this particular show were Black. Two women and a man. All familiar faces and all successful professionals. The host asked each one in turn what their reactions were to the Northam story. In summary, they were shocked, saddened and, of course, “Northam should resign.”
Their answers, all worded a bit differently but with the same theme, were expected and I agreed with most of what they said. Until one more thing that brought on the boil.
“What can we trade for.” “What leverage does this give us?” “What can we get?” Direct quotes.
They talked about “trading” for more Black legislators. More Black state officials. Better treatment for Black men arrested. New social programs for Black people. All good. But, “trade?”
This came from a Black activist, a Black professor and a Black New York Times columnist. The talk was they could get something to “restore their faith in government,” soothe their anger, gain some better advantage. “Trade for.”
Now, I’m aware of the disadvantages and often bad treatment of minorities. All minorities. Everywhere in the nation. For some, the history of subjugation goes back 200 years or more. We’ve enslaved, imprisoned and, near our southern border, we’re doing it again today.
But, this was the first time I’d heard anyone talk of “trading” with society over someone’s alleged bad actions. With a story only a couple of hours old , and without waiting for more facts, these people were talking of using someone’s bad personal decision to “bargain” for advantage.
That set off other thoughts. Now, eight decades plus and counting, I wondered about my own life at 25 years. Did I do anything 57 years ago I would not like people to know about today? Did I make some bad decisions, participate in some bad activities back then? Did I do or say then anything not acceptable today? Has my behavior changed? Am I making wiser decisions and being more thoughtful, living a more accepting life now?
The answers to all those questions is the same. Yes!
So, what about Northam? What about all the Northam’s out there? Did they act in ways back then that are unacceptable today? Did they just “go along” instead of making all the right moral decisions at that time? What about their lives since then? Do the make better decisions now? Are they still the same people 25 years later? What kind of lives have they led? Are they better, wiser?
I make no excuses for Northam. “What will be will be.” It’ll all shake out. He made a bad choice - probably more than one. The repercussions will be quick, especially since he has risen to high political office. We do - and should - expect better.
In many issues, we seem to react to today’s bad actions by quickly condemning someone or something because they/it violate contemporary life. We seldom place that unacceptable behavior in the context of when it occurred. We use today’s norms rather than those extant at time.
Racism is - and always has been - unacceptable. It’s both a personal and national shame. As it should be.
But, discussions of how public disclosure of some politicians’ bad behavior can be “traded” for some societal benefit is racist, too. Equality is an absolute right. Guaranteed. Talk of bargaining for racial advantage is racist, too.