BLACK AND WHITE
When I moved to Washington 40 years ago, the area was de facto segregated. Black and white folks worked together during the day, but every evening they went home to their own neighborhoods. Over the last four decades that situation has changed in a positive way. Fully integrated areas such as the U Street corridor were unimaginable in the 1970s, but increasingly common today. However we still have a way to go as I found out last week.
The day we learned that Rodney King had died I said on my radio edition of Core Values that the circumstances “which led to his being beaten were of his own making” and that I think any driver “leading police on a 100 mile per hour chase would have received the same treatment regardless of race.” I added that the last point is debatable, a debate we should engage in.
I received a lot of very angry phone calls and e-mail from listeners who identified themselves as being black. Some of them called me a racist. I found this disheartening.
I did not say that Mr. King deserved to be beaten nor that the police acted in an appropriate way. I just pointed out that he was not exactly an innocent bystander. He chose to drive drunk. He chose to speed. He chose not to stop when ordered to by police and he chose to resist when they tried to arrest him. It was, and still is, my belief that this particular group of officers would have reacted just as badly if the driver of the car were white instead of black.
The one good thing about the Rodney King tragedy twenty-one years ago is that it helped begin a dialogue between black and white Americans about how our perception of events are affected by our life experiences and, therefore, our race. What I learned from the reaction to my commentary last week was that we need more of that dialogue to continue. We may not always “get along” as Mr. King famously said, but being open to discussing our feelings together, as a community, without being accused of racism is a Core Value.