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Racism from a different perspective

Five days ahead of the 50th anniversary of the "March on Washington" (see my cover photo for visual context), we've got much on which to remember & reflect. It was jarring to hear Rep. John Lewis introduced on an NPR piece yesterday as "the only living speaker from the platform that day," but then I realized that, of course, that's inevitably true. King himself cut down just a few years later, but time catching up with all but the youngest from Aug. 28, 1963.

These last three years have given me a new appreciation, somewhat de-coupled from the usual politics and infighting, about racism and anti-racism efforts. Being involved with the Ancient Ohio Trail project, and the Tribal Outreach Project of the Newark Earthworks Center led by Marti Chaatsmith, has given me repeated opportunities to look closely, uncomfortably often, at racism as it exists towards American Indians. The events and interactions and public reactions have brought out the myriad, complex, and deeply interwoven ways that racism contorts our understanding of each other, of cultures, and of the past . . . let alone the search for justice in the present.

To say of any one comment, statement, or act "That's racism" is often difficult, even when all involved are willing to admit that racism is active and involved in what's going on -- yet if you can never say that "this" is racist, then you are left with platitudes, and generalities, and ultimately inaction. There are assumptions and expectations and casual slurs and off-handed denigrations that have to be called out and identified, even as we debate what exactly is "over the line." But as a majority culture representative, I see so clearly how it simply can't be my call, and I've seen again and again how, from the perspective of minority cultures, what's invisible or subtle to me is a clear slap in the face to them . . . and my not seeing it (at first, or at all) is a slap from the other side.

It has been an unexpected challenge, and an unanticipated value of being involved in this work. We still don't know where it is going, but I hope (and pray!) it ends, as Dr. King said, with its long arc bending towards justice.