Column: Get High On Life

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 13, 1998

Harold Keller / L’Observateur / May 13, 1998

Let’s Be Honest About Race Relations

Recently, I was in the St. John Parish office building and, as I often do,entered the Assessor’s office and jokingly asked if Whitney Joseph still worked there. Whitney, hearing my question, hollered from his office andinvited me in.

Whitney is the Chief Deputy Assessor and an African-American. “Why don’tyou write about race relations?” he asked, waiting for my response.

“Because we don’t have much,” I answered, sarcastically. “You alwayswant to write about something,” he said. “This is something you need towrite about.” “You asked for it,” I said. “I’ve been wanting to do that forsix months, but didn’t have the right motivation.”I promised Whitney that my next article would be about race relations.

“You won’t like it,” I told him. “But, remember,” I continued, “that theBible says the truth will set you free and that open rebuke is better than secret love.”I honestly believe that racism is worse now than it’s ever been. That’s theproblem. What’s the solution?If you ask the blacks, the majority will blame the whites. I think whenpeople continually look back, they can’t focus on the future or live in the present.

Yes, slavery was wrong. President Clinton can apologize if he wants to,but I don’t because I didn’t have anything to do with it.

Martin Luther King Jr. died 30 years ago fighting for equal rights for allAmericans. His crusade was on behalf of his race. He was a courageousman. He had guts! He believed that life was not worth living if you didn’thave a cause for which to die. Because of his leadership and courage, wefinally have freedom for all! Shortly before his death, King said that he had gone to the mountaintop and looked over. “I’ve seen the Promised Land,” he said. His dream was thatone day every boy and girl, man and woman would be judged not on the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I’m all for that, but I’m also aware that character can be good or bad. It’sgood or bad in whites and blacks alike.

On April 4, 1998, Leonard Pitts Jr., an African-American columnist for theMiami Herald, wrote that after 30 years, black people are lost on the road to the Promised Land. Pitts said that the year 1998 brings us childrenwith guns and homes without hope, brings us mothers in poverty, sisters in labor, brothers in prison and fathers in pain.

Whitney, I ask you this question: What have you done to ease the tension among the races? Personally, I carry guilt for many things in my life, but none when it comes to racism. I dislike some whites as well as some blacks.I get frustrated when black leaders, church and political, abuse their people. I get confused when I hear of the Black Miss America contest, theblack college national football championship, the black mayors throughout the U.S. recently meeting in New Orleans, and the Louisiana legislature,the U.S. Congress both having black caucus groups. All of the abovementioned are based on the color of their skins.

I get upset when black leaders defend black people in positions of authority who are incompetent. It amazes me how blacks vote in a blockfor black candidates, or Democrats, regardless of their character or qualifications.

To my friend, Whitney Joseph: Thanks for asking me to write about race relations. It’s been 30 years since King’s death. He fought and won thebattle that his people might enjoy freedom, but freedom without boundaries can be a disaster. It can lead to even greater bondage.When will racism end? When the majority of the people, black and white, take the advice of the late Martin Luther King Jr. and accept everyone, notfor the color of their skin but for the content of their character.

Harold Keller is a regular columnist for L’Observateur.

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