Local View: Crucial adjustments needed amidst White awakening

It was June of 1998, and I found James Byrd’s sister’s phone number in the old information directory. Her name was Mary, and we spoke for 15 minutes following James Byrd’s brutal execution by three white racists in Jasper, Texas. She talked to me without restraint or intensity. I could have been NBC or a private researcher; she was willing to talk.

I ran an anti-racism organization out of Wisconsin beginning in 1992. She didn’t have a gut-wrenching feeling that her brother’s death was something out of the ordinary. Mary wanted justice and didn’t demand media attention.

There were few nationwide groups to support her cause at the time. It was just beginning to sink in how unacceptable her brother’s death was to the rest of the country.

According to my white friends on social media, the time is now to stand up in awareness. My high school friends from the White Bear Lake, Minnesota, class of 1978, reveal how they have been down to the epicenter of the Minneapolis riots near Cup Foods, and now they fully understand just how the dominant race has left out Blacks or how they lacked empathy.

My prominent cross country coach from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and University of Minnesota, a well-known sports legend, wrote, “I am ashamed of my white privilege.” He went down to South Minneapolis to sweep up glass and be part of the community rebuilding.


Is being ashamed of being white the key to recognizing oppression or acknowledging that there is a long-standing class structure that tolerates elitism in every aspect of American life?

I was a Southern Baptist in Beverly Hills, one of the richest cities in California, for 25 years. The pastor’s daughter who is now in her 40s wrote on social media, “I now understand what Colin Kaepernick did, and I fully support his actions.” Taking a knee at a football game did not convey demeaning the flag or citizenry but pointing out that the constant killing of black men and children was blatantly unacceptable. One knee was crucified by Kapernick haters, but several bullets whizzed by their consciousness until George Floyd was slowly killed in video time-lapsed agony.

I am not going to denounce my white heritage because I had no choice where I came from or who gave birth to me. But like all white people, I have a choice to not remain distant in the face of racial injustice. I have a choice to stand with those who are part of the complete identity of unjust killings.

I denounced corporate-climbing suburbs in 1978 when I left for college and then transferred to North Carolina Central in 1980 to be a civil rights leader. I was the only White student living on campus. I didn’t want to be a hero. I wanted to be part of radical change by showing Black people that someone from the white race cared about how they suffered in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marches and the implications of a separate society.

The point is, we are the so-called elitist race that could have done something all along. A killing in broad daylight in South Minneapolis by law enforcement is not the wake-up call. It is another stone in Al Sharpton’s eulogy of George Floyd to pick up the building blocks of the spiritually rejected and stand up together for a common cause.

A white awakening of brutality that has followed from Trayvon Martin, LaQuan McDonald, Tamir Rice, and Breanna Taylor is a screaming demand for a crucial adjustment in leadership by those who have been oppressed.

The Bible’s book of Isaiah talks about how the unjust will rise up to purge the tainted leadership. The time is now for white people to yield to leadership that has endured mortal suffering and surrender the preservation of shielded, unbending arrogance.

Jane Hoffman of Duluth has a master’s degree in political science.

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