ICYMI, Jim Nathan’s thoughtful essay on racial respect and awareness is worth your attention…
Special to the News-Press on August 16, 2020
Racial respect. If not now, when?
Our community has an opportunity to participate in a growing national movement demonstrating racial respect and awareness while rejecting hate and bigotry. Nothing will erase 400 years of inhumane treatment, but it would be a positive gesture if the Lee County Commission would relocate the portrait of Robert E. Lee from the commission chamber. If not now, when?
Recent national social unrest has taken on high visibility. I have participated in virtual forums on racism, read more than ever on our nation’s racial history, and consulted with several highly respected local African Americans.
One poignant comment caused me to speak out: “Seeing the giant portrait of Robert E. Lee prominently displayed in the Lee County Commission Chamber is immediately, emotionally painful. I believe every African American feels similarly when approaching our elected county officials who proudly sit under the portrait that dignifies a man who fought against our nation to ‘own’ my ancestors as ‘personal property’ to serve as slaves.” In reflection, that portrait should not be “painful” only to African Americans; it should be painful to each of us.
City governments and universities are removing monuments of Confederate leaders, slave owners or known racists. Examples exist in Richmond, Louisville, Jacksonville, Houston, Fredericksburg, Philadelphia, Mobile, and Indianapolis. Like the NFL’s Washington Football franchise dropping “Redskins”, schools across the nation are eliminating nicknames and mascots considered racially derogative. Schools in Texas, California, North Carolina, and Washington are discontinuing use of “Rebel”; while schools in Virginia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Ohio are retiring use of “Raiders, Confederates, Redskins and Chieftains.”
Racism has been declared a public health crisis by the Cleveland City Council and by physician groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and American College of Physicians. The mayors of Chicago, Cincinnati and Tampa, and the police chiefs of Baltimore, Phoenix and Columbia, SC, established the Police Reform and Racial Justice Working Group. Extensive police reforms are emerging in cities and states including use of chokeholds, neck restraints, tear gas, excessive force, no-knock warrants, and body cameras, while increasing transparency.
PepsiCo announced it would rebrand Aunt Jemima pancake mix “to make progress toward racial equality.” Other corporations are reviewing logos and images such as Mrs. Butterworth’s Syrup, Uncle Ben’s Rice, and Cream of Wheat. Professional sports organizations including Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, and National Football League have all made significant announcements, commitments, and funds to “end systemic racism.” The mayor of Washington, DC, renamed two blocks in Downtown DC, “Black Lives Matter Plaza.” The mayor of New York City plans to rename a street in each borough “Black Lives Matter.” The California State Board of Trustees made its first general education curriculum change in over 40 years by creating a one-course graduation requirement in ethnic and social justice studies.
This message is not about political correctness nor solely a concern of African Americans. It is an issue that should concern us all. The glaring display of this individual in a prominent government building in our community is a reflection on all of us. What must every individual; regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender who enters the Commission chamber think of us? What must they assume about citizens who choose to honor a man who led the fight to continue the horrid practice of slavery to own humans as property?
While relocating that century old portrait of Robert E. Lee is a small step in terms of centuries of slavery and Jim Crow transgressions, it would be a symbol of learning and growing Americans. It is time for the Lee County Commission to take this step. If not now, when?
I encourage you to read, learn and listen. Consider:
- “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander demonstrates how recent laws and legal interpretations have created new forms of racial inequality. (https://www.amazon.com/New-Jim-Crow-Incarceration-Colorblindness/dp/1595586431)
- “The Rise of Jim Crow in Fort Myers, 1885-1930” is impressive research by FGCU adjunct professor Jonathan Harrison revealing how local, middle-class African American property owners had property confiscated, were relocated into a segregated area, and deprived of basic facilities. (http://ucf.digital.flvc.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A3185/datastream/OBJ/view/The_Florida_historical_quarterly.pdf)
Jim Nathan is the former CEO and president of Lee Health.