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It is 2020 and I can see more clearly now.

On the ophthalmological scale, 2020 is close to perfect vision. Thanks to removal of cataracts and refractory replacement lenses two years ago, I am able to see as well as I ever did but that is not the type of vision I am addressing here.

“Let those who have ears to hear . . . .” could have a corollary in “Let those who have eyes to see. . . .”

In my youth, I foolishly believed that the only thing preventing change was lack of information. “If only we could help people understand that we all profit by creating a more just environment for everyone. If only we could create opportunities for people of different races, religions, cultures, etc. to meet each other as human beings, hearts would be changed. If only we could decree how we must interact with others based on the words many claim to believe and salute, minds would certainly be changed.”

My personal involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was brief; however, the lessons I learned and the aspirations I heard have remained in my heart forever. As a card-carrying member of CORE (Congress on Racial Equality), I did participate in several marches related to employment and housing opportunities in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. That year I heard myself referred to as a token WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). I had not been fully aware before that time, that the color of my skin was a hall pass or a get-out-of-jail-free card.

I was naïve enough to believe that ending official segregation and enacting additional laws prohibiting discrimination would lead us into the fairer future many of us sought. Until I heard the life stories of other young people who had always lived by the rules and worked hard only to find themselves still barred from equal opportunities and definitely equal justice, I was living in a white person’s protected fog.

That same year, I was fortunate to be present on the Washington Mall during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream speech.” Those inspiring words helped me to hold on to my belief in a brighter future where we all could be brothers and sisters. The often-used quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice,” continues to be my personal mantra.

Well, I have been waiting for this change to occur for more than fifty years and the veil of optimism is slipping from my eyes. I do, however, refuse to allow that veil to become a mask silencing my mouth. It seems that every time we, as a society take a step forward on the road toward our stated goal, we take one or two steps backward.

What has become clearer is that resistance to change is more of an obstacle than I ever imagined in my idealistic youth. Change is not welcomed by most people unless the change is their idea, or the change promises to personally benefit them. The familiar is always more comfortable than the unknown.

What remains a mystery to me is why the majority of the people resisting what they see as change are many of the same people who have been professing a belief in both the brotherhood of man and the intrinsic value of all lives. Why do people seem to feel threatened when those who have lived at the margins for decades or longer finally get a chance to join the mainstream? What is it in skin pigmentation that causes some people to clinch all their sphincters and call the police or reach for a gun? What is it in peaceful assembly in protest of obvious injustice that causes some people to seek ways to discredit the oppressed rather than the oppressor?

Children are not born with racial prejudice. They learn it from those around them. In the song from South Pacific, “You have to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate. You have to be carefully taught.”

In this moment of horror in which we all watched a black man murdered in broad daylight by an armed officer of the law surrounded by other officers who did nothing to stop it, we ask ourselves, “If this isn’t enough to change our course, what is?” The worst part is that this one criminal act does not stand alone. We have been watching, or should have been watching, this senseless display of violence for too long. Decades too long, centuries too long.

We pride ourselves in the United States of America of being ‘a shining city on a hill’ or the ‘last best home of man on the planet’. Even if our founding fathers did not fully believe the beautiful words they wrote, they gave us a target, a goal, an aspiration. We will never reach perfection either as individuals or as a country, but we must try. We must choose light over darkness. We must choose hope over despair. We must choose love over hate.

If we truly want a kinder, safer, fairer society for ourselves and our children, we cannot afford to waste this deciding moment by remaining silent or by making excuses for the inexcusable.

I am convinced at this point, that nothing will substantially change until a majority of us (the white privileged class) stands up, speaks up, and votes up. We must demand better leadership. We must demand leadership that not only protects the Constitution, enforces all just laws, works to revise injustice wherever it exists, but sets a tone of what behavior is acceptable in a decent society. As followers, we must open our eyes, ears, and hearts to see, hear, and feel the pain of our brothers and sisters.

We have an opportunity to write our future during this strange and disorienting time. We can join together to bend that curve a bit closer to justice.

NPH 6/3/20

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