A reader emailed last week sounding frustrated by my recent column on reparations. 

“Great article on white guilt,” he wrote, “if you’re 22 and just coming out of journalism school. When did you have this epiphany? Or did you always feel this way and, if so, why were you so late in expressing your views? Did you write like this 40 years ago, 30 years ago or even 20 years ago? I really don’t want to believe you jumped on the bandwagon, so help me out and prove your beliefs. If you did come to this conclusion late in life, why? You’re an intelligent guy. What were you blinded by?”

I love challenges.

I’m guessing most people don’t read my column every week. So they miss a lot, and even those who do are bound to forget many of them, especially when you’ve been doing this as long as I have.

Even I forget, which is why I recently went through 30 years of Wednesday Journal columns to catalogue them. So when I received this challenge, I was able to provide a list, a portion of which (due to space limits) I’m including here.

I certainly don’t expect you to look all these up and read them. I don’t even expect you to read through the entire list. I’m including it in order to make a couple of points. I’ll meet you on the other end.

12/9/92 – Discussions on integration (Project Unity)

12/30/92 – Oak Park diversity on display

2/24/93 – Race and communication (Project Unity)

5/26/93 – Wanted: People building bridges (Dialogue: Racism)

9/14/94 – OPRF Black teacher fired, pop quiz

4/19/95 – Affirmative action is a two-way street

10/18/95 – Our national lie: bridging the great divide

5/15/96 – To know where we’re going, know where we’ve been (Vision 2000)

12/4/96 – Jaslin Salmon was good for these villages

4/16/97 – You can avoid Austin, just don’t ignore it

6/25/97 – Act 1, Scene 1 in our conversation on race

3/4/98 – Filling the glass with tolerance

7/15/98 – Back to school: Race relations 101

9/30/98 – Julian centennial needs Black input

9/22/99 – Oak Park’s role: More middle-class African Americans

12/15/99 – Oak Park has a great model to follow on race: itself

2/23/00 – Whites also have a Black history 

9/20/00 – Take ‘racism’ out of our lexicon 

2/7/01 – Oak Park needs a gospel choir

2/14/01 – A Symphony of Place (celebrating the Fair Housing Ordinance)

3/14/01 – Diss integration and get disintegration

3/21/01 – Conversation on diversity in Oak Park, RIP

4/4/01 – We can do better on race

6/25/03 – The high cost of For Sale signs

7/16/03 – White people’s lament: Don’t blame me

9/3/03 – The achievement gap is not just one race’s problem

3/3/04 – Declare Austin our sister city

3/24/04 – Living together and getting along

9/7/05 – Austin could be our ‘labor of love’

1/18/06 – Oak Park: controlled racism?

2/6/06 – Myopia and the minority achievement elephant

12/13/06 – Make a mistake, own up to it (“gang sign” controversy)

9/12/07 – We can solve the achievement gap

12/12/07 – Assumptions, counter-assumptions on the achievement gap

4/2/08 – 40 years after King, a divide unbridged

4/9/08 – Don’t change what works (For Sale signs and integration)

4/30/08 – When we chose the road less traveled (40th anniversary of Fair Housing)

11/18/09 – Time for an uprising, Oak Park and Austin

10/13/10 – Our migration as one people (Isabel Wilkerson’s “Warmth of Other Suns”)

12/3/14 – What Ferguson, Missouri taught me

1/6/16 – How much do Black lives matter?

11/15/17 – Race and education

4/4/18 – From many flags, one people (the Robinets and MLK)

8/22/18 – The ‘America to Me’ docuseries and OPRF

11/21/18 – Thankful for ‘America to Me’

5/22/19 – Revising our Diversity Statement, again

10/9/19 – Whose back are you sitting on? (OPRF educational equity)

3/18/20 – Project Unity’s place in history

6/10/20 – Race to justice

12/2/20 – A crisis of labeling

12/9/20 – An apology and then some

The full list is 75 columns long (I haven’t catalogued 2021 yet). I found this a useful exercise in tracing the evolution of my thinking on race and racism, much of which was naïve early on and sometimes just plain dumb. The low point was “Take ‘racism’ out of our lexicon” (9/20/00, my apologies to Charles Whitaker). But I don’t apologize for changing. My thinking about race needed to evolve. Writing about it helped me clarify it. And I still have a long way to go.

I went from wanting to lead “courageous conversations” on race to listening and learning — from sowing the seeds to being the fertile soil in which those seeds can germinate. It has been a humbling journey. 

But it is a necessary journey and, for all its challenges and difficulties, it’s a journey I enjoy. I am better for taking it. What could be more important, especially for white Americans? Overcoming racism is the central work of our lifetime. That means reducing our own racism and then helping to dismantle the system that perpetuates white superiority and Black inferiority. 

Seventy-five columns on race and racism is a lot. Obviously this has been much on my mind, and I’m not alone. Dan Haley has been at it even longer. Michael Romain is now contributing terrific columns each week that make mine pale by comparison.

My second point is for those who criticize us for our insensitivities and mistakes. I don’t mind the criticism, but I do mind the lack of historical context. This newspaper has been addressing race and racism since it began in 1980. We aren’t neophytes. Historically, this has been Wednesday Journal’s defining issue because it is Oak Park’s defining issue. We may be right, wrong or clueless, but we have stayed focused on it for 41 years now. My columns, which cover 30 of those years, are evidence of commitment, if not always wisdom. 

Yet we will persist into the unforeseeable future.

As for the reader who challenged me, and others of like mind, I can only say, join us. 

This journey is so worth taking.

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