Elkins councilman discusses racism
In June of 1992 I was on a flight to JFK that had departed Dakar, Senegal the night before. It was morning in New York when we landed. Twenty-four hours earlier I had flown out of Spriggs-Payne Field outside of Monrovia, Liberia on the West Coast of Africa. The Liberian civil war was still a terrible everyday reality.
As I was disembarking in New York I had a powerful urge to prostrate myself on the tarmac. It was like someone else’s newsreel footage running through my head. The United States was then and remains a great country.
A decade prior to that homecoming I had lived in New York City and worked in Harlem and at the United Nations. In the years following my return from Liberia I served a congregation that was a vibrant multicultural, multiracial community.At the same time, I worked with a group of dynamic black pastors and their congregations. There was also an informal group of Liberian exiles that came together in my parish.
At no time in any of these wildly varied settings did I experience the kind of ego-driven, fear-driven hostility that I have seen and heard come from (for lack of a better descriptor) the white nationalist movements that are raising their heads in the United States in our time. Not in Harlem, not in Liberia, not during the Black Power movement years of the 1960s.
Racism or its evil twin would seem to be endemic to the human family. It did not begin with the European and colonial slave trade. It is an insidious poison that attacks the human soul. Its vile character is not lessened by time. It is undeniably one of the great human tragedies in this present moment and no less so than it was when shackled human beings were carried across the Atlantic in the bellies of slave ships.
As an elected official in the City of Elkins I see two major dimensions to be considered as we seek to address the issues of our time; first, I am sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States and Constitution of the State of West Virginia for all people as equally and impartially has possible.Second, I have a particular responsibility to make every effort to ensure the safety of all people in our city. Period.
Among what are called the cardinal virtues is justice. It is also a foundational principle of American democracy. Justice must be done in keeping with our laws, justice for all people insofar as that is in our power as a city government.
On another level, I am frustrated that I don’t have a magic wand to wave over us all, beginning with myself, that would change the human heart and heal the sickness of the soul, however God would have that be.
Somehow, we have come to believe that our feelings are or should be the ultimate authority. They are not. My feelings are not binding on you or yours on me. To fail to recognize this is to consign ourselves to a chaotic competition in which the most often and/or most deeply offended person is the winner. There seems to be an epidemic of this across the political spectrum. In reality, no one can be the winner of this destructive and utterly nonsensical competition.
An old friend, John Graham, former head of the U.S. Section on African Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, taught me an invaluable lesson: real change must come from within the individual human heart, one person at a time. As a Christian might understand it, it is a daily acknowledgment of our lifelong need to turn and turn again until our ever-deepening conversion brings us to Divine Love.
That doesn’t mean we do not need laws to protect people from the many manifestations of human brokenness. We are a nation of laws for good reason. The endless hunger for power, prestige and possessions are expressions of the unchecked human ego. Slavery and racism are but two of the consequences of this unchecked ego.
To turn and turn again is the work of denying the ego the power to separate us from Divine Love and therefore from one another. In this life we need a just system of laws to protect us from the distortions and appetites of the unchecked ego and other conflicts that arise.
Moreover in order to make sure those laws are enforced as fairly as possible — to achieve real justice — we must also be willing to challenge ourselves to examine our motives, fears and desires and reactions on a ongoing basis.
That is the only way to learn and grow, and it is the only real antidote to racism.
David C. Parker
Elkins City Council