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Discussing race and bigotry is difficult

Talking with someone of a different race about bigotry is difficult. I’ve done it, though not as many times as I should have, so I know.

It’s a whole lot tougher than, say, demanding that your state remove from the capitol building a bust of a Confederate general. It’s more challenging than demanding via Twitter or Facebook that a Navy ship named after a Civil War battle won by the Confederates be renamed.

We have descended to the absurd in some of the debate about race. Leave the guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville as it is. It is not an endorsement of racism, merely a recognition of history.

As far as the bust of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Tennessee state capitol, we’ll get back to that. For now, let’s talk about what matters.

There are two components to bigotry in America. One, dealing with the tiny minority of law enforcement personnel who sometimes brutalize the people they’re supposed to protect and serve, will be difficult enough to handle. It’s a walk in the park compared to eliminating bigotry in the hearts of some of our neighbors, friends, family members and co-workers.

I doubt it can be done, frankly. Long-held beliefs of any kind are difficult to change. And let’s be clear: Some of the very worst bigots are — how to say this diplomatically? — not very nice people to begin with.

But it is possible to make progress with some people, I think. That will happen only if we actually talk to each other and think about what we hear.

A few years ago, a friend of mine asked me to do something. At first, I refused. It was just not something I’d do, I told him.

He said he understood. Then he told me that what he was asking would be viewed as important to black residents of our area. I wouldn’t understand why, he added. Because I respect my friend highly, I relented. One of these days, he and I need to talk some more, not about whether we’re having a nice day but about why black and white people so often don’t understand each other.

That won’t be an easy conversation. I hope it can happen.

It and tens of millions of talks like it have to happen. Tearing down statues and taking other political correctness enforcement actions is an easy way to claim we’re doing something about bigotry — when we aren’t, really.

Back to Gen. Forrest. Did you know every July 13 is Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee? Did you also know he helped found the Ku Klux Klan and that during the Civil War, men under his command massacred members of a black Union unit after they had surrendered? So yes, by all means, throw out the bust.

Then let’s talk about why it was there for so many years.

— Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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