Kansas City Star Apologizes for Decades of Racist Coverage

That’s the NBC News headline I find earth-shaking in its implications.

Other papers are now looking into their own racist histories

If you think earth-shaking is too strong an adjective, you are not as old as I and haven’t the memories. I grew up in the very liberal environs of Evanston, Illinois—home to Northwestern University and a paradigm of forward-thinking. Or so I felt at the time.

And yet there was a great deal of subtle and perhaps even elusive racism going on there in the forties and fifties. An area of town where only ‘black folks’ were allowed to live—or perhaps the reverse, other areas in Evanston where there were no blacks. Movie theaters and restaurants were discreetly segregated. Blacks could sit on the main floor, but the balcony was more comfortable for them. And certainly no restaurant would refuse to seat a black family, but they might wait a very long time for service.

Evanston Township High School (where I graduated) was fully integrated, but the swim-team practiced at the all-white YMCA because our school had no pool. Which made it a bit embarrassing when Winnetka’s New Trier High came to swim against us. We had no pool, but New Trier had no black swimmers—it was an even deal.

All this and more came rushing back in my memory earlier this year

Surely I was not complicit. Surely I had no racist feelings or intentions. And yet I accepted all those conditions as perfectly normal—the way life was. This article wasn’t the trigger to my awakening, it was more the long, slow process of seeing my black fellow-Americans shot to death for a broken tail-light becoming normalized. Although I live in Europe, the demonstrations and (far more disturbing) counter-demonstrations on the streets of American cities I knew well, brought both a sense of dismay and complicity by silence.

When good men stand silent, bad things happen and I considered myself a good man. Where had I been through all these decades of silence?

Turning points don’t come often, but they come

Rosa Parks on a bus…an American newspaper considering its history…Jim Freeman penning a column…and that last won’t mean much because my audience is so small. But it means a great deal to me.

There is so much change in the air today, across societies and nations and I don’t mean the ‘change’ politicians constantly promise their unsuspecting audience. It’s been a long road from Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. to Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street and Jeff Bezos. Not to put down Jeff, but a single white male edging toward trillion-dollar wealth puts a very distorted picture on display related to our homeless, hungry and all-but-disappeared middle class.

The scenery along that long road hasn’t changed much in America in forty years, but it’s gone from black-and-white to Technicolor. The shock is as great as Dorothy’s arrival in Oz. Technicolor was a very new thing in 1939 and when Oz appeared in stunning color as Dorothy’s butt thumped down in Oz, the entire audience sucked in its breath.

The world today has had a taste of color and is unwilling to go back to black-and-white

Take that metaphor where you will, but the fall of the Berlin Wall, Arab Spring, sunset of dictators across the globe, rise of a Chinese middle class and refusal of strictures in Hong Kong are irreversible indications of the powerless demanding power—and to a very great extent, getting it.

Egypt finds itself on the wrong side of history, having thrown its first democratically elected president in prison and grabbing back dictatorship. Saudi Arabia is nervously granting minor favors to its population, but the Jamal Khashoggi murder continues to stain the monarchy.

Which is a very long way from a newspaper in Kansas looking into its past racist history

Although, all things considered, not that far.

2 thoughts on “Kansas City Star Apologizes for Decades of Racist Coverage

  1. Evanston’s much the same, Greg. It’s a town constricted by its borders, the lake and Northwestern on the east. The difference is that when I was a kid, farmland was a block west of town and now you drive 60 miles west through a maize of shit-shopping centers before a field can be seen.

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