Letter: Response to weekend letter — Context matters

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 29, 2015

Dear Editor, It was interesting to read – on the heels of a letter that asserted the lack of racial tension in LaGrange – an article that discussed divisiveness with a tone that gives credence to that very tension (letter to the editor “Assault on flag, Southern symbols divisive move” in the June 27-28 edition). It was disheartening to read an argument presented with such a caustic tone. One of the beautiful things about this country is that we all have the right to free speech. However, that freedom should be accompanied with the understanding that none of us has the complete answer to the complex issues that we face daily. So it makes sense for us to approach difficult issues with humility; to appreciate that there are valid perspectives that are different from those that we hold dear. There are almost 70,000 people in Troup County; there are many voices to be heard. A wide range of topics was included in the letter. We will address only a few. We would suggest that lack of engagement with, or understanding about a cultural celebration, does not render it “fake.” The principles of Kwanzaa – including unity, purpose, joy, love – are intended to bring families together, to acknowledge our ancestors and to celebrate our opportunity to thrive. Residents of our county may celebrate Cinco de Mayo or Diwali, or observe Ramadan. Surely if we can acknowledge and celebrate Southern culture, we can acknowledge and celebrate Hispanic, African-American, Asian and other cultures without disparagement. We also suggest that people think about the context in which certain organizations and traditions grew. For instance, the African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in part because the Africans who helped to build Saint George Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia were forbidden to worship except in the balcony. The Sunday morning incident in which the Rev. Absalom Jones was forbidden to pray on the main floor of the sanctuary was one of the contributing factors to Richard Allen’s establishment of a separate church. Most of the mainstream churches struggled with issues of race and inclusion well into the 1970s. The history of those struggles is well documented. Miss Black America? Again – context matters. When the Miss American pageant was started, there was a written rule that contestants must be “in good health and of the white race.” Miss Black America was an alternative initiated by a concerned father whose African-American daughters who could not aspire to that Miss America stage. The filters of our own experience constrain us; all of us. But as long as we characterize fellow citizens as “these people” and imagine our communities as “us” and “them,” no resolution is possible. If we are unwilling to forego labels as the starting and end point for arguments, if we remain convinced of the unassailability of our own position, then we will never engage civilly in a manner that can help us all move forward as a community. Respectfully, The Rev. Walter and Linda McMullen LaGrange