We’re thinking about race

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 3, 2005

It was bound to happen. With the intense coverage of events that transpired surrounding Hurricane Katrina, the ugly spectre of racism in America, something which most of us would prefer lay dormant, has raised its head again. Nonetheless, it’s probably healthy that we grapple with it from time to time.

We’ve all seen the Associated Press photo captions of Katrina victims that described a black man as a &uot;looter&uot; and a white couple as having &uot;managed to find food.&uot;

Robert Pocklington’s writings on Katrina events in the past week prompted a visit to my office by Charles Christian, head of the Suffolk chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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Mr. Christian said he had received calls from several people, as had I, concerned over some of the thoughts the columnist expressed, particularly those seeming to make light of the impact of centuries of slavery and decades of institutionalized racism on blacks today.

In Mr. Christians’ mind, the News-Herald publishing Pocklington’s remarks was an implied endorsement of them.

I told Mr. Christian I believed that to be a bit of a leap, that newspapers have a long tradition of publishing op-ed opinions such as Mr. Pocklington’s that are not the official view of the newspaper as an institution. In fact, often times the two views are at odds. Many times in the past Mr. Pocklington’s columns have been critical of a News-Herald editorial, the paper’s official view, which falls under a head of &uot;Our Opinion.&uot; And from time to time, such as this, I’ve had to explain that his opinions are not those of the newspaper.

While agreeing with Mr. Christian that I thought the comments were an oversimplification of a complex, deep-rooted, issue, I believe he has the right to express them and whether I agree with them or not, he likely speaks for many people.

As does hypocritical, moralizing windbag radio host William Bennett, who on the day after Mr. Mr. Christian and I had our chat, dropped his ditty about how aborting black babies could help decrease the crime rate in America.

Of course Bennett has been blaming the media and liberals for taking his comments out of context, but reading the transcript of his remarks, along with those spoken during an interview on the Sean Hannity show where he defended them, one quickly picks up Bennett’s speech pattern, riddled with terms like &uot;these black kids&uot; and &uot;these people,&uot; meaning that they are all alike.

And when they use such phrases while boasting of their own generosity – as Bennett did talking about his wife’s work promoting abstinence among inner-city kids – they are positing themselves, as one writer put it, as white saviors rushing to rescue black people from themselves, which is inspired by the religious missionaries who washed up on the shores of Africa and New World.

Whether Mr. Bennett likes it or not, &uot;those comments&uot; coming from &uot;those people&uot; do not sit well with many blacks, or whites for that matter.

A unique opportunity has presented itself to America in the form of a harsh wind (I’m referring to Katrina, not Bennett) – a chance to take a good, hard look in the mirror. It’s likely we’re not going to like all that we see, but it’s obvious issues persist and it’s important that they be confronted and discussed. It might be a good idea (or perhaps a bad one) for it to be taken locally to an official level. One would think city council might find such information useful in crafting a truly comprehensive plan for our racially-mixed community.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611 or at andy.prutsok@suffolknewsherald.com.