Editor’s Note: Another conversation about race in Charlottesville?

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Editor’s Note: Another conversation about race in Charlottesville?

Our country was born proud with a guilty conscience. Its patriotism flowed not from the blood, the land, or a shared ancestry, but instead from a common commitment to a set of abstract principles: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Even as the words were written down, though, our government and citizenry were perpetrating a breathtaking genocide on America’s first peoples and enforcing a system of slavery that violated every principle of human goodness.

Our town’s patron saint, Thomas Jefferson, the author of our scripted virtues, was a slave master whose second marriage was unconsecrated, because it was to a slave woman named Sally Hemings. Their children and children’s children helped build the city we live in. That’s all just to say that our origin story, nationally and locally, contains a paradox: Our pride and shame come from the same place, because through the course of our history we have treated some people as individuals and others as groups.

In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, President Obama delivered a kind of State of the Races address, which coming from our first black president, was incredibly brave. If you haven’t read it in its entirety, you should. Responding to the notion that we need to “convene a conversation on race,” he said, “I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.”

Our city has been involved in a lengthy Dialogue on Race, and some positive things have come from it. But our generation has a different race problem than our parents’ one did. It is no longer legal to enforce racial inequality, but it will always be legal to be a bigot.  This week’s feature on the way the Episcopal Church has reacted to gay marriage shows how small communities founded on love and fellowship can evolve, from a place of strength, beloved traditions that contain guilty flaws.

Our country’s genius comes from its ability to deliver a free, if arduous, path to self-fulfillment. Our economic strength is built on self-interest. Our social fabric is knit together by a communal commitment to the individual ideal. If the right to a gun is guaranteed to all citizens, then so is the right to marriage.

The other thing the president said that’s worth remembering is that we are better than we have ever been before on the issues of racial and gender equality. We are the parents of our dreams. When our children fall, the world doesn’t end. When they excel, we celebrate.

  • Walt

    Thanks Giles for writing this and for the Cville’s continuing coverage of important stories related to race relations and social justice in Charlottesville.

    I am sorry I was out of town for the rally last week. A couple of thoughts on your editorial. I could not agree more that the Dialogue on Race has to be an ongoing thing and that it is both a matter of politics and policy as well as a matter of the heart. Eradicating racism is a spiritual, ethical, moral, economic, political, and sociological endeavor and all must be brought to the battle. The Dialogue on Race was meant to address the human and dialog part of the problem as well as the concrete action needed to eliminate discrimination.

    I believe the Human Rights Commission, which evolved out of the DOR, was meant to do both. I was constantly perplexed by the lack of overwhelming community response to the campaign for the Human Rights Commission. Where were the representatives of our major institutions like the Schools, the University, the churches, the political parties? I was told by several minority friends and leaders that the it would take an acute crisis to get people out into the streets and in front of City Council to protest for something. Something like the Treyvon Martin event. This was troubling to me as the the impetus for the Human Rights Commission is the same as for eradicating the cause of the Treyvon Martin tragedy which was behind the rally last week. Why were the same people who attended the rally absent during the HRC debates at Council?

    Your article on the Church and Gay rights is also a good thing but also troubling when it comes to the race relations in Charlottesville. If a church can move on that issue, why can’t the churches be more effective in moving the race relations issue in Cville?

    In your article on the rally it was stated:

    “It’s a shift that needs to start locally, said Bellamy, who circulated a petition calling for monthly discussions about issues of race at the city level. “This issue is not one that will go away,” he said. “We will push for this until our kids are 55 and 60 years old. This is a discussion that must always occur until racism is no more.”

    Before we go forward on more Dialoguing on race, which I think emphatically we should, we should take a moment to take stock of what has been and not been accomplished with the current Dialogue on Race which is now a part of the Human Rights Commission Office. Being an evaluator by training I tend to think of such programs in terms of concrete outcomes and accountability. I think even the softer side can be measured. So I would ask that the City conduct an evaluation of the three year Dialogue on Race initiative before proceeding with more.

    For instance I would ask:

    If we did a survey of a random sample of 800 people in cville 3 years ago and now about their perceptions of whether or not race relations, racial equity, and discrimination have gotten better or worse, what would the data tell us about the impact of the DOR?

    If we compared three years ago to today could we say that churches are more integrated than they were or whether or not there has been an increase in the number of interracial church programs or even the number of sermons on race relations?

    If we compared the unemployment rate for minorities in Charlottesville 3 years ago and today, would we see a positive change?

    If we compared the number of police stops by race 3 years ago and today would we see a decline in racial biases in such statistics?

    There are a number of other outcome indicators that could be used to measure the impact and effectiveness of the Dialogue on Race. What are the actual social psychological impacts of participating in a dialogue? Some might argue if there is talk but no action that the actions, while well intended, might be making the problem worse.

    So let’s take a quick minute to evaluate how well the Dialogue on Race has been implemented and what kind of an impact it is having. The City Councilors often hammered the advocates of the Human Rights Commission for hard Data to justify the HRC, but never asked for this kind of hard data when it came to the DOR reports. This type of examination could make the Dialogues going forward more effective.

    The DOR should have a clear set of objectives and clear set indicators of measurable indicators of success in order to make it effective and to see progress. Then let’s figure out the next program for ongoing dialogues. Maybe the churches should be in charge of the dialogue process rather than the City?

  • Enough

    Giles,
    I think you need to re-read what Obama said. If anything, he is the most divisive president in our history and his comments regarding an INNOCENT and AQUITTED (not Obama’s words but mine) George Zimmerman only hurt race relations in this country. The fact is he made statements that MADE the situation about race first. Please, get your facts straight.

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