I was brokenhearted when I learned of the hateful letters with racist rants that were sent to many of our city’s leaders.
I am not so naïve to think that racism no longer exists. My generation has experienced the greatest rate of racial healing in the history of our nation.
I am an immigrant. I am a minority woman. In my 50 years, I have lived in four states. I grew up in New Orleans and lived and worked in Los Angeles, both cities with large minority populations. I have also lived in Virginia and now live in North Carolina. In all these states, I served in leadership roles in both non-profit ministry organizations and private sector organizations. I very rarely witnessed racist behavior or racism directed at me.
I am also a Republican voter, a volunteer, and a leader in the grassroots of the Republican party. Between my professional pursuits and my volunteer activism, I can count on less than one hand the times I have witnessed racism among my Republican friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.
My individual experience is not different from most people I know. My experience is certainly anecdotal, but I have spoken to numerous people who have similar experiences and express similar stories and thoughts on racism.
I can tell you about when one of our Republican volunteers expressed openly racist ideas and said racist things. My husband and a few others were quick to chastise and correct this individual, and this individual is no longer part of our team.
Accusations of racism and rhetoric have increased and have been amplified in the press in recent years. I’ve asked people about their exposure to racism, and so many tell similar stories. They have rarely experienced or witnessed racism and are quick to call it out and bring it to an end.
Racism is not some person or living thing. It is not some contagious virus that can spread from one person to another. Racism is an idea, a sad and ignorant world view. Racism is a human frailty and a condition of the human heart. Any person, regardless of their color, is susceptible to racist beliefs if they are exposed to the wrong influences in their lives. People are not born racist. They become that way over time as they are exposed to and taught by other people who harbor the same ignorant views.
I am troubled in three ways. I am sad that race relations have suffered over the last decade. I am sad because, after our nation and communities have made amazing progress to diminish racism since the 1960s, we are now moving back in the wrong direction. I am upset that my Republican friends, colleagues, and many of our leaders are wrongfully accused of racism. The rhetoric in recent weeks has escalated to calling people “white supremacist,” which is just about the worst accusation people can make against me and those I work with.
We cannot achieve progress via our politics when good people are accused of being racist, or worse, of being a white supremacist. We must root out racism where it exists.
It is very hard to do when we spend so much time accusing others when they are not racists. Such accusations poison our politics and drive us apart rather than bring us together. Neither racism nor unfounded, unfair accusations of racism can be taken lightly.
Contributing columnist Desiree Zapata Miller is president of the Mecklenburg Evening Republican Women’s Club. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org