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The Voice of the Black Community

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Black North Carolinians express hopes and fears against racism
 
Published Wednesday, July 1, 2020
by Greg Childress, The Policy Watch

“You are going to get your ass killed.”

Those are the words Carl Kenney Sr. used when his son, Durham minister and author Carl Kenney Jr., joined students at the University of Missouri to protest alleged racism at the state’s flagship school. Those are the words the father used when the son joined the fight against racial injustice in Ferguson, Missouri, after a police officer killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year old, during a scuffle.

The younger Kenney, a Mizzou alum, had come home to Columbia, Missouri, to care for his dad who’d fallen ill. “He was constantly living in fear that his son was going to be killed for speaking out,” said Kenney, who wrote about his father in “My Daddy’s Promise: Lessons Learned Through Caregiving.” Kenney’s father died in 2015. He was 78. Throughout his lifetime, the elder Carl had seen what happened to Black people who spoke out against oppression and racial injustice.

America is changing at warp speed since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. A nearly 9-minute long video showing former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck served as an epiphany for many whites.

Kenney said white acquaintances have approached him in recent weeks to discuss Floyd’s death. He said they seem to be searching for absolution for failing to believe complaints about police brutality against Blacks. “I do think there are some changes with white people around their willingness to accept that this stuff we’ve been crying about is real,” Kenney said. “Young white people have always stood and marched with us, but now older white people are finally saying that these [racial injustices] aren’t made up.”

Since Floyd’s death, statues of Confederate soldiers in strongholds of the Old South have begun to fall. The names of racists, white supremacists and slave owners are being erased from public buildings, other places of honor and, quite possibly, important corners of America’s memory.

Even Mississippi has relented. Lawmakers there voted last week to remove the Confederate battle symbol from its state flag. Gov. Tate Reeves signed the bill into law.

But more important, Floyd’s death has sparked a national conversation about the role police play in America, along with new strategies to repair adversarial relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities of color they serve. “Basically, what African Americans have been asking for is help,” Sen. Valerie Foushee, an Orange County Democrat, told Policy Watch last week. “See what’s going on, see how we’re being mistreated in the streets of America with [Blacks receiving] a death penalty [from police] for crimes that don’t mandate the death penalty or the death penalty even when we’re not committing crimes. We’re being killed by those who have been sworn to serve and protect.”

Golden Smith, a senior hospital account specialist in the Charlotte area and father of three, said America will never be the same in the wake of Floyd’s death. “I don’t think we can go back,” said Smith, who played football at N.C. State University in the early 1980s. “We have a tremendous opportunity to start correcting the ills of the past 400 years.”

Now in his mid-50s, Smith, who grew up in Shelby, said he never thought America would reach the point where Blacks and whites could openly and honestly discuss racism and its impact on Black lives. “We’re dealing with a system of racism,” Smith said. “When it comes to white people, you can hardly blame them. You almost feel sorry for them. It’s nearly impossible for them to come up in a racist system created by the government and not be tainted and not be biased and not be racist.”

Smith has discussed racism with his 31-year-old son. But he admits he struggles to find the right words and the right time to talk to his 7-year-old daughter about racism. “She has all of these beautiful friends,” Smith said. “White friends, Black friends, Asian friends, and she’s such a sweet person and she loves her friends, and I love that innocence. At what point do you begin to tell her that life isn’t what it always seems?”

 

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