When I was a child I lived in a pleasant neighborhood on the west side of Akron, Ohio. Maple Valley was a safe enclave with good schools and kind neighbors. In 1960 my friend Bob and I held homemade placards proclaiming Nixon and Lodge and waved them at passing cars. Our efforts were superfluous. Pretty much everyone on the block was a Republican.
When I was in the ninth grade fear began to grip our neighborhood. We were all of European ancestry and African-Americans began buying houses on our side of Copley Road, the unspoken boundary in the process known as red-lining. “For sale” signs went up overnight and parents began whispering nervously. The elders at our all white church decided to sell the parsonage and buy another in a “safer” part of town. I blindly accepted it all as normal, routine, even necessary. Everyone said the neighborhood would crumble, crime would increase, and we would never be safe again. Except none of it turned out to be true.
My old block looks remarkably as it did when we made our fast getaway almost 50 years ago. Yards are tidy, fences are painted, children play on the side streets and life goes on. The neighborhood appears to be racially and ethnically diverse, certainly a place in which your average Millennial family would feel at home. The truth was obvious. There had never been a reason to leave.
I regret I grew up in a culture that endorsed such racism. I regret no adult showed me a better path or a deeper way. My racism was inherited, implied, and subconscious. I would have said I did not have a racist bone in my body. And of course, I would have been wrong.
Silence is part of the problem. We think, “Well, we are not a part of the opposition, so that says something, right?” Yeah, I don’t think so. When it comes to justice there are really only two options. You are a part of the problem, or you are a part of the solution. Remaining silent is unacceptable.
When a newspaper posed the question, “What is wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton replied, “I am.” Had the newspaper asked, “What is right with the world?” Chesterton might have given the same answer, “I am.” We are all the problem. We are all the solution.
I am pleased to be a part of a church that is racially, ethnically and socio-economically diverse. Yet the little town in which I live just voted down a measure that would have brought affordable housing into our prosperous white enclave. Something seems out of kilter being a part of the solution in one place, and a part of the problem in another. While I voted for the affordable housing, I did not canvas the neighborhood in support of it. It only lost by a few votes. I could have made a difference.
The gap is widening between the comfortable and the desperate. The solution is not complicated. It is simple. The solution is me. When it comes to making this world a better place, I am the problem. I am the solution.
And so it goes.