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We Have the Power to Overcome Our Nation's History of Racism

by on June 02, 2020 5:00 AM


There are 329 million people in the United States, which means we have 329 million different relationships with racism.

Here’s a hot news flash: we are a racist country. When blacks make up 13% of the general population of this country yet somehow comprise over 33% of the prison population, while whites make up 76% of the general population but only comprise 30% of the prison population, that’s racist. The definition of racism is that race is the belief that the primary determinant of human traits and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. Cops lock up significantly more blacks than whites – that’s racist.

The demographics of our incarcerated population is just the most factually available manifestation of our national racism. Other signs include how our public schools across the country disproportionately suspend and expel black students, or the expanding racial wealth gap where the median wealth for white families is 10 times that of black families.

Perhaps with this latest tragedy it’s finally time for all of us to collectively take a page from The Twelve Steps and admit we have been powerless over racism—that our society has become unmanageable.

Continuing in that vein, here’s my story…

I grew up in a city 65 miles northeast of Happy Valley. As a kid, where families lived seemed to me to be a function of what their parents did. We lived in what I thought was a middle-class part of town. I knew kids whose parents owned businesses or were doctors or dentists and they lived in what I thought were nicer parts of town. The black residents mostly lived in one area — a place that felt equivalent to our middle-class home – with some sections lower income than that. I assumed that most of their parents had middle-class jobs like mine. Even today a popular house valuation website estimates the current value of my childhood home – built in 1901 – at $120,422. Since this website also shows that the median home value in that city is $107,288, my childhood home still qualifies as “middle-class.” 

Except, kids don’t know enough to wonder how such a demographic conglomeration might have been forced, and not done by free will. Or at least I didn’t. Maybe when those black families applied for a mortgage they might have been given higher rates than my family, meaning they couldn’t afford as much house. Or that their home insurance rates might have been higher, also limiting what they could afford. Or they were required to put more money down. Or that they might not have been paid comparably for the same work. Or that real estate agents only showed them properties in certain areas.

Also during my youth the nightly television news broadcasts contained the requisite dispatch from Vietnam, and the requisite dispatch from the civil rights movement in the south. It was dismaying to see both every day. I didn’t know anyone who had a family member or relative serving in the war. But I did have black classmates and I remember feeling relieved they did not have to endure the pain and suffering that was being inflicted on the black communities in Alabama, Mississippi and other areas of the south. That was when the existence of racism in this country became real to me. Little did I know what pain and suffering might have been being inflicted on my classmates because I was too naïve or oblivious to notice.

Then as I got into my high school years and traveled with the basketball team my eyes were opened a bit wider. Because of race riots that had engulfed York five years earlier, when we traveled there the team bus was met at the city limits by a police escort, driven to a fenced parking area at the school, locked in, and we were guarded during the entirety of our time there. Similar precautionary measures, but without police escorts, were in place at several other schools on the schedule. At the time I didn’t think much about it, and I never recall fearing for my safety, but again, through hindsight I think I was rather naïve about the world around me.

Racism has a long and ingrained past in our country. As the citizens of this country we are the voice of how we want it to be run now and in the future. If we want to see change, today — primary election day – is one of those days when we utilize democracy to help choose our future leaders. When we can choose leaders who are committed to making a change to our racist past and are willing to do what is necessary to see that change through.

Penn State football coach James Franklin released a statement about the George Floyd killing that said in part, “…in moments like this, silence is a deafening indifference." In the past I felt my small part to help cure racism was to be revolted by it so I would be sure not to engage in it. But I have this small platform and, as coach says, silence is indifference. And I am assuredly not indifferent on this topic. Hopefully many of the other 329 million aren’t either.


John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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