Reckoning with racism

Published September 3, 2020

By Tom Campbell

North Carolina and our nation have a crisis more critical than the pandemic. It is a moral crisis - the crisis of racism.
I went to segregated public schools and can remember the Pitt County Courthouse that had signs for “white” and “colored” bathrooms and water fountains. There were similar signs in movie theatres, restaurants and businesses. I confess it has taken me a long time to acknowledge my white privilege and to recognize the inequity, injustice and systemic racism that exists.
North Carolina played an important role in the civil rights movement, starting with the 1960 sit-in demonstration by four NC A&T students after being denied service at a Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter. A recent news release reminded me of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at Shaw University in Raleigh. Alumna Ella Baker started the national movement after recognizing that young people could play a major role bringing about social justice. SNCC emphasized love in response to hatred, and their non-violent responses converted many. Among many other reminders are Tim Tyson’s powerful “Blood done sign my name,” about the 1970 brutal murder of Henry Marrow in Oxford, NC. Blacks boycotted local merchants and marched to Raleigh, yet an all-white jury failed to convict two white men who admitted to friends what they had done.
After we passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and equal employment opportunity regulations I believed race relations were getting better. It is painfully obvious they aren’t. It is hard to face uncomfortable and distressing truths, but the NC Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice is revealing some of them.  
Potential Black jurists are removed from jury selections two to three times more frequently than whites. Blacks account for only 22 percent of North Carolina’s population but 45 percent of our prison population. 75 percent of juveniles serving life sentences with parole are Black, 84 percent of inmates serving life sentences for being a habitual felon are Black and 91 percent of inmates serving life without parole are Black.
10 percent of all applicants applying for a home mortgage are turned down, however 16 percent of Blacks are denied, compared to 9 percent for whites. Highway traffic has increased, but the number of traffic stops has declined. In 2019, roughly 25 out of 100 Black drivers were stopped, compared to 12 of 100 white drivers. Black drivers were more frequently cited for equipment or regulatory violations. Mostly they were just driving while Black.
The gap between finances of Blacks and whites is still as wide as it was in 1968. In 2018 the median Black household income was 59 cents for every dollar the median white household earned. And nowhere is the inequity more obvious than healthcare, where a large percentage of people of color don’t have health insurance.
My children never got “the talk” most Black parents give their children to warn them about prejudice and injustice they will face. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that 7 in 10 Black Americans say they have experienced incidents of discrimination or police mistreatment and nearly half have felt their life was in danger.
If this column challenges you, perhaps it is time to do your own serious self-examination. Deny it if you like, but maybe you, too, will be awakened to the injustice and inequality and be convicted that it is time to right the wrongs. 
“Now the time has come for the nation to fulfill its promise…We face a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves of talk. It is a time to act….Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.” No, these words weren’t spoken last week. They were part of a national address by President John F. Kennedy on June 11, 1963, following the violence to Freedom riders.
 It is time to act.