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Constance Alexander: Discussing the topic of race relations means not hitting the snooze button

On June 25, the Murray City Council voted unanimously to recommend to the Calloway County Judge-Executive that the statue of a Confederate soldier in the likeness of General Robert E. Lee — which has commandeered the courthouse square since 1917 – be removed from the courthouse property and relocated to an appropriate venue.

Three weeks later another unanimous resolution passed; this one signed by the Judge Executive and Calloway County Fiscal Court.

After ten emphatic whereases and an implied drumroll, the Fiscal Court resolved, “that the Confederate Monument dedicated to the remembrance of those Calloway Countians who fought in the Civil War shall remain standing upon the Northeast corner of the grounds of the Calloway County Courthouse for so long as the owners of that Monument and the citizens of Calloway County are inclined.”

“The decision to do so has not been made lightly,” one of the whereases declares, “with Court members having heard from hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Calloway County citizens prior to reaching this conclusion.”

Julie Rainbow

Moreover, in an act of official noblesse oblige, the Court asserts that it remains committed to serving the will of the people of Calloway County and, “Should that Will change at some point in the future, the Court stands ready to listen and engage on this issue.”

As the vote on Resolution 20-0715-C was taking place in Murray, I was interviewing a social research activist, Julie Rainbow, whose work examines the impact of racial disparities on various populations. Starting July 21, Ms. Rainbow and two of her associates are conducting an online workshop using memoir to explore the roots of our own racial disparities while creating a safe space for thoughtful conversation and self-discovery.

According to her, the deep wounds of racial disparity have festered for generations, but current local, state and nation-wide events mandate that we stop trying to ignore them.

“We are in the midst of a racial-reckoning of a magnitude that has not been seen, arguably, since the Civil Rights era,” Rainbow said.

“Many of us fervently hope that this is a tipping point,” she went on. “That as a nation, we will not hit the snooze button again, that we will rise to the challenge of the work to be done both individually and systemically.”

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Such an effort demands facing the truth of the past, acknowledging the shortcomings of the present, and together creating a more equitable and just future.

Through memoir, individuals discover their own attitudes and beliefs without shame. Her own journey began in Raleigh, NC where, until she was twelve, she lived in a segregated community. Her mother was a librarian and her father was a math teacher with a Master’s degree from a prestigious university in New York.

With the integration, her father, who’d taught honors-level mathematics courses in a black school, was transferred to an integrated school where he was assigned general math courses.

“We lost a piece of my dad at that moment,” she recalled. “And that was my first experience of race getting into my consciousness, going from segregation to integration.”

African Americans deal with this kind of oppression for a lifetime, while white people, typically the majority in most settings, are new to the conversation. Writing about it helps people discover the origins of their own attitudes and beliefs about race and racism without shame. From there, conversations about race can begin.

“To do this essential work,” Julie Rainbow remarked, “we must each stand firmly in the knowing of who we are and come to terms with the ways that race has shaped our lives and conditioned our attitudes.”

In Calloway County, rather than assume the matter is settled, the real work begins now. Instead of hitting the reliable snooze button it’s time to wake up, get to work, and tell the truth to ourselves: To see what has not been seen and to speak the words that have been left unsaid.
More information is available at www.julierainbow.com.

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