The most complex problems are usually avoided by the simplest principles.
Like race relations.
The suspicions and prejudices between blacks and whites in America are complicated and never ending. They seem to grow worse with every passing day, with discord and distrust ever on the rise. And much of what we do to fight racism only seems to promote racism, leaving us worse off than when we started.
That’s the complex problem.
The simple solution is, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to treat people the way you want to be treated.
They should have thought of that on East Avenue.
It was in July, at a rich dentist’s mansion, at a Juneteenth party. Rather, at a mockery of a Juneteenth party. Juneteenth signs and flags, and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Hennessy. KFC because the stereotype is that black people like fried chicken and Hennessy because of its popularity in urban, black America. There were some spoofs of local progressive politicians, including what seemed to be the sexual ridicule of one.
Apparently the rich dentist thought it was funny.
He was wrong.
It was cruel and disrespectful, and when you are cruel and disrespectful to a group of people based on the color of their skin, that’s racism.
And nobody would have ever known about it if the firemen hadn’t come.
More precisely, nobody would have ever known about it if the black fireman hadn’t come.
He was one member of an on-duty, three-man crew and its captain. The captain, a white man, was the one who knew about the party, and he was the one who decided they would go.
And he was the one who decided that they would stay.
At the East Avenue mansion of a rich white guy who’s on the board of the hospital, where they were making fun of black people.
I wish it was different. I wish it hadn’t happened. I wish the people who put it on had loved their neighbors and treated them the way they themselves would want to be treated.
But they didn’t.
And the black firefighter was offended and hurt.
Everyone should have been. Nobody should have been comfortable. Nobody should have stood still for it. They should have walked out as soon as they saw what it was. At this gathering of educated and powerful people, the patrician benefactors of the community, every one of them should have been offended and outraged and stormed out on principle.
But they didn’t.
And three white firefighters either didn’t notice or didn’t care that their Rochester Fire Department brother was in a situation that was insulting and degrading to him and his heritage. The men who should have had his back didn’t. The ethic that if you insult my brother you insult me didn’t seem to cross anyone’s mind.
The firefighters weren’t a team; the white people were a team. And the black firefighter was the odd man out.
He filed a complaint immediately.
Within a week, I had heard about the incident, confirmed the substance of it, and reported it.
And then nothing happened.
Not a peep out of City Hall. The mayor knew, several on City Council knew, the fire chief knew. And everybody kept their mouth shut. Not until the firefighter’s lawyer held a news conference did anybody say anything.
And then there was no end to the outrage.
And that’s too bad. The people of Rochester should have heard about this from their mayor. This shouldn’t have been hidden away. Ugly doesn’t get better when it’s ignored.
And this is ugly.
One of the city’s most privileged residents, in a mansion from Rochester’s gilded age, in a crude and disrespectful taunt of a race of people, catching up the city’s most revered department in his low-character filth. In lampooning a stereotype of black people, these social elites proved true a stereotype of white people.
And they offended not just the fireman whose captain brought him to the party, they sent a message to every black person in Rochester and elsewhere. They showed cause for the distrust and suspicion growing in our society.
As a white person, I know this sort of conduct is rare.
Or at least I think I know it.
But this much I do know.
We are all children of the same Father in Heaven; we are all citizens of the same Republic; we are all expected to be better than this.
This isn’t about some race theory or structural anything. It’s not about one type of politics or another. It’s about the simple demand of faith, heritage and common decency: That we love one another as we love ourselves, and that we treat others the way we want to be treated.
And that didn’t happen here.
And so we reap the whirlwind.