69 percent of Americans say that race relations are bad and getting worse according to a New York Times/CBS News poll taken immediately after the killing of five Dallas police officers. The headline read, we “Hold a Grim View of Race Relations.”
As reported this is the highest level of discord since the 1992 Los Angeles riots following the acquittal of the officers who beat Rodney King. Later King pled for peace with his famous question, ‘Can We All Just Get Along?’
Poor race relations are one of the dominant big-picture issues of the day. At work, in stores, at school, in public places, even in churches there is a growing uneasiness. Across the racial divide we eye one another and wonder.
One of my black friends told me he is hearing things that he thought were long buried, things he thought he would never hear again in America. Deteriorating race relations encourage some people to voice their hostility, even to act out on their otherwise unspoken prejudices.
Following the poll I talked about it with several of my friends both black and white. I even had a conversation with my 14 year-old grandson Luke – who told me how he came to the defense of one his black friends when he was called the “N” word. He added that his black friend defended him when someone called him a ‘cracker.’ He said, “I can’t stand racists.” Good for you Luke, stand up for what you believe!
I suspect that as I have found in my own limited inquiry, race relations between those who have nurtured friendships over the years are not suddenly threatened by public hostility. The problem is that too few have nurtured such relationships.
Rodney King knew that rioting wasn’t the answer. Getting along was. In asking the question he hoped the public outcry against his mistreatment would lead to better, not worse, race relations.
Mark Twain said, “When you need a friend it’s too late to make one.” Building interracial friendships is not a quick fix. It will take much more to reverse centuries of entrenched prejudice and injustice, yet without it race relations are unlikely to improve.