COMMENTARY: Race is never far from our national conversation

BY Bill Reagan

“Racist” is our worst epithet. President Trump recently used a vulgarity that betrays racist thinking. Many have attacked him for it. Others have tried to find ways to justify this kind of language. There is no justification for Mr. Trump’s use of that kind of language — especially in the Oval Office.

But our national conversation about race too easily devolves into name calling. Everyone who does not like Mr. Trump rejoices at the opportunity to reduce him to “a racist.” He may be a racist. If so, that is very unfortunate, but is he really so different from you and me?

I grew up during the 1960s and 1970s in an all white suburban community in which racist attitudes and language were common, not just in the community, but in my family as well. Dr. King led a civil rights movement that challenged that ugly racism.

Much of the reaction to the civil rights movement in my community was a doubling down of racist sentiment. That experience influenced my own ideas and attitudes about race. My reason tells me racism is deplorable and inexcusable. My visceral emotions sometimes betray my thinking. Does that happen to you? I know it does.

Human beings need belonging. “Birds of a feather flock together.” That’s why we have families, join churches and clubs, post on Facebook, attend concerts and root for football teams.

Racism and bigotry are simply the ugly deviation from this normal human need. Excluding others does not create belonging. Belonging to a group, race or ethnicity does not make you better others.

Our American ideal about race, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, is that “all men are created equal.” We would say “all people” today. We should demand from ourselves adherence to this great ideal, repent of our failure to do so and rectify the harm done to victims of bigotry. We should expect the same and more from President Trump.

Bill Reagan is executive director of Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.