Discriminating against others is a choice

Columnist and Columnist

This past week, PBS aired a powerful two-hour documentary entitled “Central Park Five.”

For those readers too young to remember, it dealt with the trial and conviction of four African-American and Latino youth for the April 1989 gang rape and beating of a young white woman jogging in New York City’s Central Park.

I remember this vividly, as I was in the last two months of my senior year in high school. The police and prosecutors in the case manipulated, threatened and coerced fabricated confessions from the five youths. They also ignored DNA evidence and a suspect that really committed the heinous act that would have and should have exonerated the youths.

All of this was done in the lynch mob climate of the racially-divided Big Apple. Please, if you have not watched this film, go online and watch it this weekend.

I have written about race in America before, but always in a political context. Today I want to talk about it from a personal perspective.

I grew up in Norwalk, Ohio in the 1980’s. Norwalk is a conservative, stuffy town halfway between Toledo and Cleveland.

It was a great place to grow up for many reasons. As I look back, one reason it was great was because I went to school with African-Americans.

You might think growing up in an integrated town is nothing special, but several towns around my hometown had no black people. These towns liked it that way. I did not realize it then, but these towns should have been ashamed; 1989 is not too far removed from 2013, but in many ways the racist attitude of those towns still exists.

Race has affected me in many ways. As a white male in this society, I realize that I still have an unfair advantage in so many ways. I can drive my car and not be profiled. I can walk on the street and not be an instant suspect. I will get the job, mortgage or car loan easier than someone with darker skin than mine. For all these things to be true at this point in time is an utter disgrace.

Race also played a part in the three times in my life that I have been in physical danger. Once as a teenager, a black man put a knife to my throat. The other two times I was threatened for leaving a Cleveland Indians game.

The two incidents in Cleveland, Ohio were at the hands of two bullies that thought it was okay to assault me because of my obesity. One of these men threw a beer bottle at my head. The other man pushed me and threatened me. I did nothing to provoke these two men, who happened be African-American. All three incidents shook me then and stay with me now. All three incidents also helped shape my views on race in America.

As I have stated, all three times I was put in physical danger; it was at the hands of a black man. Did this fuel a deep-seated hatred of black people? Did I become Grand Wizard of my local Ku Klux Klan chapter? The answer is no.

I am not saying I am Mother Teresa; I have slipped and said inappropriate things in my life. But I did not let these three incidents color my view on race relations. Three bums do not exemplify a complete race of people.

The choice to discriminate against a group of people is that: a choice. Every day we are given the opportunity to appeal to our better inner angels and not our inner demons. I could have let these three incidents fester and turn into hatred, but where would that leave me? It would leave me lessened as a human being.

In this age of quieted, veiled racism, let us all pause and let our better selves come forth. It is our choice as rational, thinking human beings. The other way is littered with examples of wrongdoing; as illustrated with the Central Park Jogger case.

Let us truly embrace everyone as our brother and sister; it will better every person and our nation as well.

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