By The Honorable Dwight Tillery
Former Mayor of Cincinnati and Co-Convener of the Black Agenda Cincinnati
What an incredible time to be black and to have lived through the height of the Civil Rights Movement in this nation. For me, it is difficult to celebrate the racial progress this nation claims to have made. President Trump’s honesty about how he feels about people of color is not his exclusively but represents a significant part of people in this Country. And, unlike far too many whites who will deny the existence of racism, Trump is being honest about his feelings towards blacks. Of course, he’ll deny being a racist or racially prejudice but there are few who will make such admission. What else would you expect President Trump or others to say. I recall a debate that Malcolm X had at Harvard when he said he would rather deal with the Ku Klux Klan than to deal with liberal whites. His reasoning was that only when a person is honest with you can you have honest dialogue. It has taken my lifetime to understand the importance of Malcolm X’s statement.
Many whites say the discussion of race is difficult and that they are uncomfortable with the topic. At the same time, blacks have to endure it--even deny it in their own minds. What about our discomfort? How is it that only whites can decide when racism exist while intimidating blacks for even making such a suggestion? More than any group of people, blacks who would know better about the existence of racism. If it were not for King’s courage to speak out against the injustice of racism, would there even be a Dr. King holiday. From the history of slavery all the way up to present, there is a trail of attitudes among far too many whites that blacks aren’t their equal. Many surveys show that whites have racial attitudes that often result in discriminatory practices which keep blacks at the bottom of the ladder in America.
Studies reveal that when it comes to deciding whether racism exist in this nation, blacks and whites are deeply divided. That being the case, how can so many white Cincinnatians in particular say it doesn’t exist. From the media, to the local governments and the business community, the perception of race is sharply divided. But doesn’t the denial of racism only keep it in place? Whites want to point to what they call “racial progress” as their way of avoiding the truth about the two societies that exist. Whites want to speak about “inclusion, diversity, affirmative action and equity” without ever facing up to the reason(s) why they use this terminology.
Am I to wait another two hundred years to be a man in this city or nation? Am I still 3/5ths human based on institutional racism? Am I to believe that blacks are poor because they want to be poor, poorly educated because they want to be, unemployed because we want to be, live in terrible housing, unarmed black men shot down by police because we want to die. Either we are free or we are still in human bondage because of the color of our skin. There is no in between.
Segregation in and of itself is a clear statement about how whites feel about blacks in this community. Some surveys say Cincinnati is the fifth most segregated city in the country. And in the last four years, gentrification is the work to further segregation in this city. Professor Julian E. Zelizer of Princeton wrote the introduction to the 2016 version of the Kerner Commission report. He makes the following observation:
“Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans. What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget-is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”
Does this mean that all white people are racist—no. Does this mean that all whites make conscious decisions to discriminate against people of color—no. For me, it does mean that racism/implicit bias is deeply embedded in this culture. Racial discrimination is morally reprehensible and everyone must take a meaningful stand against it.
Unfortunately, Civil Rights organizations lead by blacks and black leaders have been so badly compromised that they are so fearful of calling out racism as it exists—not as whites will allow them. Whites have picked and promoted certain black leaders as their proof that they aren’t racist while those blacks have the false belief that their achievement has nothing to do with their color. I don’t care how smart and talented you might be, your color always has something to do with your success or failure in America. Personally, I will continue to speak out against racism in this community; and those who want to continue to attack the Health Gap and threaten its funding, the Black Agenda, will not silence me. Anything less would be a dishonor of Dr. King’s Holiday.
Originally published in The Cincinnati Herald.
The Black agenda cincinnati
The Black Agenda is a Movement of individuals and organizations working cooperatively to improve the lives of Black Cincinnatians. The purpose is to bring the Black Community of Cincinnati together to prioritize our challenges as a race.