By PASTOR DICK SMITH
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank NEWS On the Green for their reporting in the Brookfield/Masury community. I especially appreciate the articles in the July issue relating to race relations. It is no secret in this country that slavery was accepted by many people as a common occurrence and a way of life for many years. This had the effect of marginalizing a specific people with dark skin color from Africa and other areas. People have been kept as slaves or in servitude for thousands of years, usually as the result of being defeated by an enemy or because they were sought by outside powers to provide a cheap source of labor for serving more affluent peoples or helping to provide greater profit for businesses in manufacturing or agriculture. I realize I may be painting with a broad brush here, but this issue is not complicated.
When a people are pinned down in a situation where they have a heritage of being “less than” other people due to history and events beyond their control, it can be difficult to change how other people think of them. Just as slavery has been a part of the world for so long, mindsets of those who lived in or grew up in a time when attitudes and beliefs were disparaging to those who bear a history of slavery can be difficult to change. Discrimination, even now, has set lines in the sand that are difficult to cross for many.
I like to think that I am a Christian but admit that I am far from perfect! I grew up in a time when attitudes towards people of color were not kind and there was a quiet flow of discrimination in the community. We like to think we can easily rise above these things and claim that we are accepting. But when we really look at ourselves and at what we say and how we act, we can be disappointed. A real effort to change is required to rid ourselves of old preconceptions and prejudice. I am blessed, because I had a parent who made an effort to thwart discrimination in the small community I grew up in. I also have faith in a God that created all of us in his image, seeks each one of us and gifts each one of us for his purposes. In the grand scheme of things, we are all important to God and to each other. It is unfortunate that many of our churches are not reflective of racial togetherness.
The most important thing we can do is talk to each other; to listen to each other and to understand that we are really very much alike; that at the end of the day we really aren’t interested in hating or fearing each other. We just want to be happy. But the issues of discrimination and the resulting social injustice will not be overcome easily. Discrimination has resulted in cultures that have developed that have not had the same opportunities or freedoms as the larger culture. Over time, justice, or fairness, has declined for them, and there must be a real effort by society to ensure “justice for all.”
This isn’t intended as an oversimplification of the issues – but at its heart this isn’t complicated. I am a white male who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s and who, over the last few years due to studies and a career change, has realized the scope of what has occurred in our society, and what we need to do about it. Get together, talk about it, seek to understand and to be understood. Accept people as good and just and decent until they prove otherwise. Given the hate and vitriol and noise in our country, I think now is the time to talk, to do something about it. We can’t wait anymore. We have to talk. It starts with us.
Dick Smith is pastor of Brookfield United Methodist Church.