"For race not to matter in the long run, we have to acknowledge it does matter.”
By GLYNIS HART
CLAREMONT – In spite of frigid weather Monday, the Racial Healing Group celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Trinity Episcopal/Prince of Peace Lutheran Church on Broad Street. About 20 people (some of whom wore their coats indoors) celebrated the civil rights leader's birthday with a potluck, music, and of course speeches.
The Racial Healing Group was formed in the wake of a 2017 incident when an 8-year old biracial boy was partly hung by three white boys. A group of teachers and concerned citizens got together to discuss the problem, said then-superintendent of schools Middleton McGoodwin.
“I was totally unaware,” said McGoodwin. “That being unaware was not because I grew up in a deprived environment, but because my environment unintentionally isolated me.”
McGoodwin grew up in Cohasset, Massachusetts — a community that had no black people in it because they were redlined, a practice of preventing qualified buyers from purchasing homes because of the buyer's skin color or ethnic background. Joe Kennedy, father of the future president, was refused membership in the Cohasset golf club because he was Catholic, said McGoodwin. “It wasn't just people of color.”
“What was amazing [about the near-hanging incident] was I was leaning toward calling it bullying, and Meg Hurley said, 'No, this is something else; this is worse. It's racism.'” said McGoodwin.
The Racial Healing Group set out to educate themselves on the problem, reading David Billings' “Deep Denial,” working with teaching colleagues and the Vermont Flow of History Group. They read “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and other works.
McGoodwin said that for him, as for a lot of white people, their well-meaning efforts to not be racist backfire, because they think not talking about it is enough. “In order for race not to matter in the long run, we have to acknowledge it does matter,” he said. “The silence in white households leaves unchallenged the many racial messages children receive.
“A study found that when children only know what not to do, and what not to talk about, they don't have the skills they need,” said McGoodwin.
“In April 2018, I shared this article ('What White Children Need to Know About Race') with the administrative team,” he said. “Every one of them agreed, 'We don't have time to do that.'”
McGoodwin said that although he was frustrated, he understood them because 18 months earlier he would have had the same response. “We have an obligation to our students,” he said, “But in order to to that, the adults need to be brought up to speed first.”
“The three Rs are important, but the skills to interact in our society are also important,” he said.
Mayor Charlene Lovett presented McGoodwin with an award from the city for his work tackling racism in Claremont. In addition to the Racial Justice Champions Award, she also gave him a book: “Stamped from the Beginning” Ibram Kendi's history of racist ideas in America.
The group watched Dr. King's speech “The Other America,” given at Stanford University in April 1967. “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a mass effort to re-educate themselves out of their racism,” King said in his final book, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?,” originally published in 1967.
In the book King reiterates his belief in the effectiveness of non-violence and shares his insight that it's “easier to integrate a lunch counter” than to make sure everyone has equal economic opportunity. He inveighed against those who suggested black people weren't doing enough for themselves: “It is a cruel jest to tell a bootless man to pull himself up by his own bootstraps,” he said.
And for those who argued that you can't legislate morality, King answered: “The law cannot force my neighbor to love me, but it can prevent him from lynching me.”
Ralston Blair presented a musical tribute to Dr. King, weaving a medley of contemporary sounds around the gospel song “We Shall Overcome.”