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Posted: September 26, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Diversity discussions requires level field

For nearly 12 years, this publication has afforded me the opportunity to write on anything and everything piquing my interest. The world has truly been my oyster, and for that I’m grateful. But one topic has consistently eluded my best efforts, as it’s so controversial that one has to tiptoe delicately to avoid misinterpretation. That topic is racial diversity.

Racial diversity, in the Deep South at least, simply cannot be effectively discussed in the limited space allotted here. But I truly believe that the most critical issue facing America today is the white-black racial issue. And thus, in an effort to foment meaningful and constructive conversation on the matter, please hear me out.

The unfortunate thing about any discussion regarding diversity is the lack of a level playing field. It seems as if some minority spokesmen can say virtually any outrageous thing about race and diversity, substantiated or not, and expect to be cut some slack. Conversely, others voicing opinions unpalatable to minorities are branded "racist."

That ain’t right; but that’s the way it is.

People from other sections of America simply do not get it. The Federal judge in Boston, for example, who in 1972 ordered Atlanta’s public schools to bus children across district lines for equal racial representation just didn’t get it. Just two years later, when Boston’s schools were forced to adhere to the same edict and racial rioting devastated Beantown, he got it. Judge W. Arthur Garrity became known as "Boston’s Most Hated Man."

Folks from other regions still do not understand white-black race relations in the Deep South. It’s like lava roiling beneath the surface just waiting to erupt at the drop of a hat, or by the use of a politically incorrect word.

The United States is barely two human lifetimes removed from the Federally accepted and approved institution of human slavery. While Southerners did not invent slavery, and despite the fact that most white Southerners did not own slaves, the touchstone of any discussion involving race and diversity always (yes, always) inevitably evokes emotional outbursts hearkening back to slavery in the South.

Think about it.

Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in 1865. We’re merely 145 years down the road. Two 75-year human lifetime expectancies laid end-to-end encompasses the entire period of history from a time when blacks were not allowed to be educated at all to the day when a black man is president of The United States of America.

If, in that same 145 years, this nation had done nothing else except work at educating and incorporating black America into the mainstream of American society, the job would still be in progress.

Never mind Reconstruction, the Spanish-American War, World War I, the "roaring 20’s" and the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, the Space Race, Vietnam, and the War on Terror. If America was — over that span of 145 years — working solely at seamlessly incorporating black America into the mainstream, we’d still be at it.

No?

Take a look at the disparities in our classrooms and jails and you get an idea of the work that remains to be done.

But there needs to be an opportunity for honest and open dialogue, with each faction of society calmly and objectively listening as well as speaking.

Thus far, each faction has been mostly all about getting as big a piece of the societal pie for themselves as possible. And that has to come to a screeching halt.

America is a diverse nation, built on the labor of immigrants from around the world, forged by a common belief in the unalienable rights endowed by our Creator: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

America has not been, and is not now, a perfect place. But if this nation is to overcome the substantial problems which threaten us from all sides, we must move forward in a united front. And the first and foremost thing we must address to achieve that unity is racial diversity, in general, and black-white race relations in the Deep South, in particular.

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.

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