Can’t ignore race issue anymore


Watching the protests across the country spurred by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner is
uncomfortable for many Americans. But without those demonstrations disrupting the status quo, the
conversations many of us are having about race in America would not be happening.
The images of people marching in the streets from coast to coast have made the issue impossible to ignore
For many white Americans, this is a fairly new conversation. And as a white woman from small-town
Northwest Ohio, I know I lack perspective on this issue.
But for many black Americans, this conversation is nothing new.
"I don’t know any African Americans who haven’t been touched by this directly," said Dalton
Anthony Jones, an assistant professor in the Ethnic Studies Department at Bowling Green State
University. "There is a huge gulf between how white Americans and African Americans experience this
While white parents may talk to their children about how to conduct themselves if approached by police or
other authority figures, most don’t do it out of fear for their safety.
Not so for blacks, Jones said.
"The majority of African Americans have this conversation," he said.
Jones is painfully aware that he needs to rein in his emotions and tame his word choice when he talks of
the recent protests to a primarily white audience. He is hesitant to use strong words that might reveal
the depth of African Americans’ anger since that unleashed language could provoke further divide between
But he is hoping that Americans are listening … and learning.
"While it might be really disturbing to see the civil disobedience taking place in the streets, it’s
a reflection of an outrage we need to know exists," Jones said. "It’s hard to watch. But
without these demonstrations, we wouldn’t be talking about this."
It may have taken the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner to bring the topic of race
relations to people of all colors, Jones said. And if the conversation continues, it could result in the
mobilization of a new civil rights movement.
"It’s what we have been struggling to change and struggling to be heard about," he said.
Jones, like other blacks of his age who remember civil unrest of the past, has renewed hope that things
may now change. Day after day, people of all colors in all different communities are taking a stand,
demanding change in how we interact.
"It’s not just Ferguson. It’s all over the country."
But Jones knows the current system is deeply entrenched. And the problem is tangled in several layers
starting with most African Americans living in segregated conditions in communities struggling with
poverty, followed by the practice of racial profiling, and topped with the disproportionate application
of laws against blacks at virtually every step of the legal system from arrest to incarceration.
"It is incumbent upon all Americans to recognize that the system is broken," he said. But he is
seeing glimmers of hope. He is hearing open discussion where there was once painful silence. "There
is an opportunity to change the structural issues."
However, Jones knows it will take more than passing conversations by blacks and whites.
"In order for us to change the system, it’s going to take a lot of collective will and hard
conversation," he said. "Which our nation has had a hard time having in the past."
"I hope we’ve reached the point where all lives matter," regardless of race.
And as unpleasant as it may be, we here in small-town Northwest Ohio have to open our eyes to see that we
have our own problems to face.
"If we listen to the experiences of our black students and members of the black community in Bowling
Green, many of the issues plaguing the nation, we need to address in our community," Jones said.

So as uncomfortable as it is to watch and read of the unrest churning in our country, don’t shut it out.
Those of us who have the luxury to ignore it, must not be quietly content to let the status quo survive.

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