Friday, May 2, 2008

Letter to the Washington Post, #2

This one was sent to the Post on 12/24/07


Your article, “Jury Convicts Black Man in Shooting Death of White Teen (12/24),” raises numerous difficult questions about race and the role it plays in our culture and history. Reading it, I couldn’t help wondering how differently the story of the incident and trial would have played out if the shooter had been white and the victim had been an aggressive black youth.

The prosecutor’s quoted comments diminished the significance that race played in the incident and minimized the importance of a Ku Klux Klan attack on the shooter’s grandfather that occurred 85 years ago. The last word in the article went to the slain teen’s father, who claimed that the conviction clears his “son’s name [of all accusations of] racism.”

But the story (and the trial’s conclusion) does not settle such questions, only adds to the backlog that we, as a society, have long buried or brushed aside. Race and racism are perhaps the longest running unresolved issue facing the United States. The real, threatened and imagined violence (and sexuality and class questions) that have been entangled with race and racism since the first Europeans arrived on this continent manifest themselves differently in each of our lives and are rarely honestly confronted.

Of course a Klan attack 85 years ago matters today, as do slavery and Jim Crow, just as surely as do the American Revolution and the genocide of Native Americans and the U.S. Constitution and the WWII-era internment of the Japanese and the first Thanksgiving matter. History does not end, but is relived in our individual and social conclusions about its meaning.

Jeff Epton
807 Taylor St., NE
Washington, DC 20017
202 506-7470

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