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August 16, 2013
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Can we have a real discussion?

Dear Jacqueline Cartier: I am a visitor to the Vail Valley again this summer and read with great interest your opinion piece in the Vail Daily. I know that most people’s opinions are formed by their families and life experiences. I believe that cross cultural, racial, religious understanding comes when people from different experiences and cultures can dialogue with each other and come to understand why and how our opinions are formed by those cultures and experiences. So I’m writing to try to understand how your opinions as stated in the article were formed.

To let you know about myself, in attempt for mutual understanding, I am a 66-year-old African-American of mixed ancestry (white men sired children with African and African-American women whom they enslaved) born and raised in Beaumont, Texas (a town in southeast Texas). I was educated in the segregated school systems there without access to the city library, which was only open to whites. My brother was chased from a “public” park by a policeman with a drawn gun when he was 12 years old for the “crime” of playing in the park. I had limited opportunity to interact in a personal way with people who were different from me.

When I went shopping downtown with my mother, we were not allowed to eat at the lunch room at the large department store as little white girls and their mothers were. I never had a conversation with a white, Italian, Mexican or Jewish person my own age. When I was a senior in high school, the superintendent was concerned about drug use in the white high schools and wondered why there was not a problem in the black high school and arranged a meeting of the student councils of the three schools to try to find out why there was such a difference. That was the first time in my life that I sat around a table with people who were different from me to have a discussion.

My family — grandfather, father, uncles and ancestors — have all been involved in the struggle and fight for justice and equal opportunity in this “Land of the free and home of the brave.” They have all been extremely brave, but have not experienced true freedom in America. I am fortunate to have the slave narratives of three of my ancestors — Agatha Babino, Valmont Cormier and Louis Evans (you can find them in the “Slaves’ Narratives” in the U.S. Library of Congress collection available online if you care to read them) — and the oral history of other ancestors and family members.

My uncle Edward Sprott, M.D. was the president of our local NAACP and the founder of Sprott Hospital, which he ran with my father and a younger brother to provide a medical facility for the black people in our community who didn’t have open access to the white hospitals. As a result of his activism, the hospital, his home and our home were bombed by the local KKK. No one was ever charged or prosecuted for those crimes.

My family taught me that no matter how many unpleasant, mean or violent encounters I experienced with white people, I was not to think that all white people were that way. They taught us that there were good and bad people in all races and religions, and I should not judge all by the actions of some. I was able to see that in the white people who participated in the civil rights movement (even though my personal encounters with white people didn’t reveal this, with very few exceptions).

As a mature adult, I attended university and lived in communities where I was in the extreme minority. I tried to approach people with an open mind, but with a reasonable amount of caution, given my life experiences. I volunteered in the schools my children attended so that I could try to assure that they were treated fairly. I did a fellowship in multicultural studies and worked in a suburban high school as a community service organizer. I had many opportunities to get to know people from many different cultures and religious and socio-econmic backgrounds and discuss all kinds of issues with them and develop lasting friendships with many of them. I have been the guests in their homes as they have been the guests in mine. My children have close friendships with all kinds of people.

I currently live in World Golf Village, a resort community in St. Augustine, Fla. I have owned a home there since 1999 and lived there since 2002. Since I have lived there, the following incidents have taken place: My daughter who was out for a walk in the neighborhood was confronted by an unidentified person (presumably a member of the community)and asked what she was doing there. My nephew and a friend who were visiting on college spring break were confronted while swimming in the pool and asked what they were doing there. My friend ( a young black woman) and her friend who a rented a condo for the weekend were confronted by homeowner and told that they had no business being in the pool. A man who had recently purchased a home in the neighborhood was out for a walk and was confronted and asked where he was going and what he was doing. My husband was out for a bike ride and was confronted by a person in a car and asked what he was doing and didn’t he know that this was a private community. These incidents occurred between 2002 and 2012.

I wonder how many times you, your friends or family members have been confronted in your or their own neighborhoods while pursuing leisure activities.

I share these to let you know just a few of my life experiences that have formed my opinions. The people I know who have been involved in the civil rights struggle have been motivated by a sense of justice and a desire to seek and achieve justice and equality in our country. Not a single one of them have been motivated by financial gain, mainly because there is very little financial gain to be had for black people fighting racism.

On the other hand, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Shawn Hannity and others of their ilk are making careers out of racism, as have many politicians in America. Many whites have profited from not having to compete with minorities in college admissions and the job market. Whites have profited greatly in the real estate market when blacks were denied the opportunity to purchase homes. Whites have profited from businesses started with small business loans that have been denied to blacks and other minorities.

You say “there are also a large number of inspirational black role models who believe that racism has no place in the American mosaic.” and list a number of wellknown black people. I wonder how many of them you know or have had conversations with to know what they believe.

I would agree with you that most, if not all of them, believe that racism has no place in the American mosaic. Unfortunately, they all know that it is alive an well in America.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall were guests in my parent’s home, and I have been a guest in the home of Jackie Robinson. I don’t know all of the others in your list, but I know from my readings that Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Dr. Ben Carson, Bill Cosby, T.D. Jakes, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr., George Washington Carver, Sojourner Truth and most blacks across the country know that racism is a part of the fabric of the United States of America. Most of us have painfully experienced and continue to experience racism in our lives.

You see President Obama’s statements about Trayvon Martin as “further inciting racial tensions.” I see them as an attempt to create racial understanding. I shared my friends and relatives experiences with a fellow parishioner who had made a hateful statement about the president. Like the president, I was trying to show that I had friends and family members who were confronted as Trayvon was. Going about their lives, trying to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in an American community and being seen as suspicious by people like George Zimmerman. They saw black faces and saw them as suspicious and not belonging.

My experiences show me that racism can indeed be a lucrative business, and the people who profit most from it are the white people who are discriminating against blacks and other minorities and promoting racial hatred.

Please, please answer me so that the two of us can create a dialogue and further understanding. Many pundits have said that the unfortunate murder of the teenage Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, will provide an opportunity for a racial dialogue. I hope we can have one.

Dana Sprott Cunningham

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The VailDaily Updated Aug 16, 2013 09:33PM Published Aug 16, 2013 06:45PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.