As the great James Baldwin once said, “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.” When is our community going to stop hiding history from our children? York leaders unfortunately have a long record of attempting to avoid honest discussion of the issue of race and discrimination and we see where that has gotten us.
We have a divided community, segregated in many ways by race. At the heart of our county, we have a concentration of poverty (disproportionately made up of people of color) surrounded by a ring of relative prosperity.
And we’ve known about solutions to this for 20 years but have not followed through on most of them. We set the issue of race aside hoping it would go away.
This hasn’t just held back African Americans. It’s held back the entire county. Just look at what it’s don’t to our reputation.
They say a brand is what people really think of you, not what you wish people would think about you. Our brand, then, is becoming “backwards Pennsylvania town living in the 1960’s”. This isn’t just an opinion. Look at what people are hearing about us. (Burying our head in the sand won’t change that):
York College’s recent decision to prevent the public from seeing Paul Rucker’s nationally acclaimed anti-racism exhibit led to our community being in INTERNATIONAL NEWS for hiding from the issue of race. We need our college to lead the discussion, not hide from it. An important recent op ed in the York Daily Record by Scott Fisher show why this history cannot be ignored. http://www.ydr.com/videos/opinion/2017/10/27/what-lynchings-artist-paul-rucker-asked/107065274/
This habit of hiding has consequences. It creates a vacuum in which ignorance can thrive. Just last year, our county made NATIONAL NEWS when footage was released of a York Vo-Tech student shouting “white power”.
Also recently, our community was featured in NATIONAL NEWS when State Senator Scott Wagner called international businessman George Soros a “Hungarian Jew” who has “a hatred of America.
York was also prominently featured in the NATIONAL NEWS recently when the FORMER mayor of West York posted racist photos of President Obama and his family depicted as apes.
For decades, our community failed to bring the murder of Lillie Belle Allen to trial. The result was that we didn’t bring the case to trial until the 1990’s and our community made INTERNATIONAL NEWS for having our mayor tried for murder.
That mayor was a police officer back in the 1960’s. He was in Farquar Park shouting “white power” and handing out bullets prior to the murder of Lillie Belle Allen. And, once again demonstrating our habit of hiding, during the 1990’s murder trial, dozens of York county business leaders took out a full page ad in the denouncing the newspaper for covering the murder trial.
(This “full page ad” thing seems to be a habit. Business leaders took out a full page ad a few years ago making unsubstantiated claims out their fellow York businessman Tom Wolf who was then running for Governor).
We really do seem to like burying our heads in the sand. Over the years, people were even told not to speak of William Goodridge, an escaped slave and prominent York county businessman who was also a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
As a result, thousands and thousands of children across York county have grown up not knowing about this African American hero! Goodridge’s story is the story of York and America! Why would would hide it just because he is African American and we are afraid to talk about the fact that he was a slave and ran a stop on the Underground Railroad?
We all know that when you stuff problems in a drawer, they don’t go away. They only grow worse. Maybe the idea floated at the recent mayoral debate was a good one: We should have a new charette on race. We started the conversation back in the 1960’s after our race riots. But we have stifled discussion since then.
York College leaders barring the public from seeing an important anti-racism exhibit is only the most recent in a long history of hiding. Isn’t it time we came out of the shadows and entered the 21st history?
History, they say, is written in the language of power. Those who attempt to hide history, though, often find it continues to bubble back up. Perhaps the idea for a new charette on race that was floated at the mayoral debate was a good one. We started that discussion with the first charette back in the 1960’s after York’s race riot, but then we stifled the discussion.
By avoiding our history, we have presented thousands of children in York from understanding their past.
We have also, up until now, cheated our own county out of a prosperous future. Soon more than half of the nation will be non-white. How on earth will York county corporations compete in the world economy if our community is literally repelling half the best and brightest candidates?
Our county commissioners should have long ago established a countywide human relations commission to establish and enforce level playing field. Corporate leader should be demanding that.
The only way to move beyond something it to face it. Ignoring it or trying to stifle discussion only traps us in the past. It’s 2017. Our college should be leading the discussion rather than hiding from it.