Editorial: City must lead more tough conversations on race

Published 12:01 am Sunday, January 20, 2019

For a large swath of Salisbury’s population it was a momentous occasion. The Salisbury City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a so-called “Resolution of Reconciliation.”

As Councilwoman Karen Alexander noted, mayors have issued proclamations with an intent similar to the resolution, but this was a rare step in which all members of Salisbury’s governing body condemned lynchings that occurred 112 years ago — in 1906 — and all actions of “violence and racial terrorism” perpetrated against African-Americans, renounced past and present-day policies that result in inequitable circumstances affecting African-Americans and committed to enacting policies that guarantee equity and justice in all arenas of civic life.

But there’s more work to do.

The resolution’s passage came in front of a vocal crowd that overwhelmingly supported the resolution’s passage and made it known to council members the many reasons passing the resolution was imperative.

One speaker said the resolution should explain reasons why the actions condemned in the resolution occurred. He offered that Democrats in addition to the Klu Klux Klan must be named as the culprits. Another speaker said he was not angry about the resolution but he knew many “European Americans” who were.

Make no mistake, Salisbury took a step forward by passing the resolution and condemning past and present manifestations of racism.

It’s also encouraging that the resolution commits city government to creating policies for all people, regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation or economic status.

Choosing to press pause on the creation of an Equity Commission was a good step at this early juncture, as those who wrote the resolution — Actions in Faith and Justice — have told the Post that fine details of the commission’s abilities weren’t fully considered during the drafting process.

But, regardless of progress already made, the City Council must turn racial reconciliation into more than words on a page.

Salisbury resident Carl Repsher said it well in an October 2016 column in the Salisbury Post. In the column, Repsher described an exchange program between First Presbyterian and Crown in Glory Lutheran Church in addition to making an astute observation about race relations.

“Discussions about race almost always occur among people that look like each other and do almost nothing to create any real understanding or empathy,” Repsher wrote.

To create empathy and make more meaningful progress than a vote by the Salisbury City Council, conversations about race must involve the people whose first response to the resolution is “we have bigger things to worry about” and ask “why bring this up 112 years after it happened.”

The Salisbury City Council took the right step Tuesday by passing the resolution, but many more uncomfortable conversations must occur if the words on the two-page resolution are to result in true racial reconciliation.

Regardless of how the conversations occur — churches and faith-based organizations seem like a good pathway — city government should enthusiastically take on the task of, as the resolution states, initiating “the process of reconciliation of racial injustice.”

Passing more resolutions or approving new city policies won’t be enough to provide the leadership Salisbury needs on race relations.