FOR YEARS I've written columns on the issue of race in Savannah. Sometimes back-to-back.
At times I feel I've overstayed my welcome on the issue, that surely no one wants to keep hearing a white guy's opinion on it, over and over.
But I still write about it. I write about it so often for these two reasons:
1) As a native Savannahian I've seen over and over again, throughout my personal and professional life, that race is the one subject at the root of nearly all challenges facing this city—past, present and future;
2) Pretty much no one here ever talks about it candidly and constructively.
As editor-in-chief I have felt, for better or worse, that one of our roles at Connect Savannah is to discuss things others around town don't or won't discuss.
If you're going to be a true alt-weekly, you have to do your best to confront uncomfortable issues, from whatever perspective you're best able to.
And in this town where so many important things go so frequently unsaid, the fact that the most important thing to discuss is also the most difficult issue to discuss is particularly frustrating.
2014 was a terrible year all around, but I'm hopeful 2015 will be better. This is literally the first time in living memory there seems to be common consensus here among political leadership and public opinion – white and black – that something needs to be done, not just said, across the board in Savannah to defuse crime, racial tension and inequality.
A recent local summit addressing the future of African American males age 10-29, by far the most troubled demographic group in the area, had remarkably broad support. I was quite encouraged by the response.
Most everyone—black and white, rich and poor—finally seems willing to recognize, officially and unofficially, on and off the record, that things are never going to get better here if all we do is blame the other side.
Or almost as bad, kick the can down the road (or as one attendee said, "create another task force").
We've done that for generations, across numerous administrations led by mayors white and black, Republican and Democrat, and we're living with the tragic result.
I certainly claim no insight into the everyday life of a young African American in Savannah, other than what I've witnessed along the way growing up here, raising a family and building a career here.
But I have seen a lot of very smart people try and fail to address these issues with a lot of different approaches from all parts of the political and policy spectrum, spending a lot of money in the process.
And here's the thing:
All of them were right.
The problem has never been a lack of ideas, or even a lack of money. The problem has been the insistence that only one idea is the right idea, that only one philosophy can be the right philosophy, that it's more important to be right than to find what works.
All paths forward are worth looking at, and all can offer a part of the solution.
We can acknowledge that social and racial injustice leads to some young men finding a life of violent crime a viable option... while also reinforcing that violent crime is simply unacceptable no matter who does it.
We can work to eradicate the injustices affecting our youth by fighting poverty and providing jobs... and by helping establish stable, responsible home lives as a great firewall against these injustices.
We can recognize that violent crime statistics skew hugely toward young black men without assuming every young black man is a perpetrator. We can work to enlighten white people on the issue of privilege without accusing every white person of being in the KKK.
We can raise the self-respect of our young men... while suggesting that pop culture which labels young women as bitches and ho's isn't helping them grow into better men.
We can close the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap in schools... while also sending the message that working hard to graduate with good grades isn't "elitist" or something to be ashamed of.
We can work to close Georgia's lax gun law loopholes which allow firearms to flood streets here and to infest other states... while acknowledging that most people shooting each other probably aren't card-carrying NRA members with valid gun permits.
We can address the fact that disadvantaged neighborhoods often have good reasons not to trust police... while holding the premise that cooperating with police is the way to get criminals off the street.
Contrary to what ideologues might tell you, none of these things is mutually exclusive. The person who tells you all white people are racist and have nothing to offer is just as wrong as the one who insists there's no such thing as racism anymore.
Call me crazy, but... we aren't contractually bound as citizens to seek the most extreme, divisive position at all times.
Personally? I'd suggest part of the solution is not no police, but rather, better police.
Not more jobs, but better jobs.
Not less welfare, but more incentive to get off welfare.
Not more taxes, but spending taxes on people instead of new buildings.
And not only holding students accountable, but holding teachers and administrators and school board members accountable.
But... that's the whole point. It's not just about my ideas, or just about your ideas.
In this upcoming City election year, we'll need to put all of our ideas on the table before all's said and done. cs
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