It Takes Courage to Tell the Truth
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Commentator S. Pearl Sharp says she knows a way to get folks talking about race - tell the truth.
S. PEARL SHARP: There's a new phenomenon in the world at media entertainment today. I call it the apology tour. This is how it works.
You speak your truth, and if your truth offends enough folks, you go on all the talk shows and other media outlets and apologize. If you apologize enough places publicly, you're on an apology tour.
I bet you think I'm referring to the recent madness in Hollywood with Michael Richards, the TV comedian who lost it at the comedy club, pummeling some black hecklers with an impromptu barrage of racial slurs.
For starters, Richards appeared on the Late Night Show with David Letterman and Jessie Jackson's radio show and will meet with his hecklers next month. But that's not the apology tour I'm talking about. What I mean comes after speaking truth to power, after brining facts to light, information that identifies a truth that a lot of us don't want to hear. And what disturbs me most about this recent trend is that those who speak the truth then apologize for doing so.
Take civil rights veteran Andrew Young. This past August, Young caught a lot of fire when, working as the colored folks representative for Wal-Mart, he stated that black communities have been historically ripped off by Jewish and Korean merchants. Now, no one has officially disputed Young's information, only the fact that he said it out loud if front of white folks.
Truth is, in my world, Los Angeles, most of the mom and pop stores in the predominantly black sections are owned by Koreans and Jews. And they do overcharge and they tend to be rude and hostile to their black customers. And the blacks employed in these shops are most often not allowed to handle the cash register.
The overall result of this environment is a long history of bad attitudes, scuffles and even one death. What pains me is that Andrew Young stated this truth, then apologized. I retract those comments, he said. It was a racist shorthand - an interesting term racist shorthand.
The truth in shorthand is sharp, clear, specific. It's the apology for speaking truth that takes a long time and allows the wounds to fester.
Then this fall, Senator John Kerry spoke a truth about the war in Iraq. He didn't say it very well, but the gist of the statement was that students who don't do well in school end up serving in Iraq. I know what he was talking about.
Every week, I see young men, mostly black and Latino, lined up and herded onto buses outside a military recruitment center in one of the poorer, darker neighborhoods of Los Angeles. With recruitment numbers down, the Army has lowered their standard and now recruits high school dropouts.
Recruiters target mini-malls and supermarket parking lots, and they are not cruising for suma cum laude high school talent. They are looking for young men on the edge who could go either way - education or the streets - shot at in South Central, or shot at in Iraq. Young people with minimal hope for their future because they have attended too many funerals for their peers and siblings. But the intent of Kerry's statement was turned around. He was accused of insulting the uniformed military and shedding some doubt for the education of our troops, and so Kerry apologized.
And again, I'd wish he had not. From presidents to priests, the liars resist any apology while the truth speakers keep backing down. Speaking truth to power takes courage. And the fact that it comes out as a misspeak, as they now call these moments, does not make it a lie. Rather, it does allow us to believe that our personal (unintelligible) and image are more important than the work for change that facing the truth demands from us.
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CHIDEYA: S. Pearl Sharp is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles.
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