The Confederate monument that has stood on the county courthouse lawn for 120 years will be relocated to a site more contextually appropriate. The Court voted 4-0 last week to remove the statue. Your voice was heard.
The relocation of the statue is crucial, and I am grateful to the Court for its leadership in making that decision. However, the sound of the gavel falling on that unanimous decision was nothing more than a starting pistol signaling the marathon has begun, and the end is nowhere in sight.
It is, in all actuality, only the first breath before the first word of the first sentence in what needs to be a very, very long conversation within our community about structural racism and the systemic approach that will be required for us to defeat it.
Our community leaders — those whom we elect and those whom they appoint — are the ones responsible for leading the charge in this centuries-old imperative. And they are the ones to be held accountable for failing to do so. But change will require all of us, because we are the ones who perpetuate it.
While the statue’s removal is necessary, we have yet to make any real progress in addressing the reality of structural racism in our community, and how our biases impact persons of color in literally every area, including health care, education, employment, housing, justice, etc.
As the statue is hauled off, what will remain pedastalized in its place is our near-invisible but dominant racial inequities. It’s past time we do something about that.
We are a small community. And for many, it can feel tight, close-knit, and comfortable. We’ve watched our children and adolescents of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds playing sports and attending class together, and have been lulled into believe that we don’t have a race problem here.
￼Of central importance to our community, and one of the most significant campaign platform issues that demands to be discussed and debated before you cast your vote for any future city or count commissioners, is the capacity of our current and would-be leaders to identify and address the social, economic, and environmental factors that continue to shape our community’s experience of structural racism — racial and ethnic bias, workplace prejudice, housing segregation, and educational and economic obstacles that face persons of color here.
Consider the achievement gap in ACT scores between white and Black students in Kentucky. On average, white students score a 20.7 in the commonwealth, whereas Black students score a 17. (In Owensboro, the numbers are closer to 19 and 17.6 respectively).
That 3.7 point gap statewide (2.6 locally) is obviously not indicative of any intellectual difference at all, but of the lack of priority and access given to students of color to learning assistance like tutoring, preparedness aids, etc., thereby impacting directly Black and brown students’ ability to apply for college or trade school admission in order to rise up, be educated and prepared for a career, and climb ladders of success their ancestors weren’t allowed to dream of.
These inequities are real and are not an accident. They are the result of policies and practices that marginalize communities of color and continue to disadvantage Black and brown people around us — and not necessarily with conscious, ill intent.
Some of these inequities are the result of our nation’s failure to unmask and correct historical injustices, such as segregation and discrimination, which left many communities of color disadvantaged relative to white communities and whose ripple effects are still felt today.
Others are the result of institutional practices and structures that continue to disadvantage communities of color, such as school and residential segregation — much of which is maintained by discrimination and implicit biases (i.e., redlining), which lie below the level of conscious awareness and are automatically activated when we encounter difference.
Studies show that the vast majority of Americans — including a sizable percentage of people of color — harbor these implicit biases, which affect our daily thoughts, behaviors, and actions in ways that result in poorer treatment of people of color.
This is real. And it isn’t going away with the statue.
￼Please ask the candidates who are putting flyers in your mailbox and signs in your yard how they plan to address structural racism in Owensboro/Daviess County, and tell them that you’re willing to lend a hand.
I will. I am.