The Herald-Zeitung’s opinion page is designed to foster discussion and debate on topics in our community. Since the death of George Floyd, the topic of race has been one that several letter writers and columnists have weighed in on.
The newspaper has done the same with its own editorial.
In Thursday’s paper, Canyon Lake resident Mark Whittaker wrote a piece that some found offensive and inflammatory.
Such a response is understandable, as Whittaker’s piece is both.
It’s also a piece that’s wrong in so many ways, while carrying echoes of white supremacist talking points that have been spoon-fed to Americans for decades.
Talking about racism is the quickest way to get some people to change the topic to violence in American cities.
It’s a reflex. Is there violence in American cities? Yes. Does it have anything to do with racism? No.
Another reflex is black-on-black crime. This is a thing that most racial groups experience because crime is typically born of opportunity or involves people you know. Nobody talks about the scourge of white-on-white crime, because it’s not about attacking crime. It’s about attacking race.
It’s a barely-concealed dog whistle attack designed to paint black people as more aggressive, more violent, more dangerous. It’s the same psychological drumbeat that echoes through our culture. It ends with black children dead for having a toy gun or wearing a hoodie in the wrong neighborhood. It ends with a black jogger dead on the side of the road.
Whittaker’s article is filled with words and phrases that echo that relentless drumbeat. Thug. Black miscreants.
It paints black communities and black people as a monolith. It’s spelled out it in the word he uses in his first sentence — “Blacks.”
Whittaker’s insistence on “All Lives Matter” is just another example of white people taking a problem in a community of color and making it about themselves. Another reflex.
“Black lives matter” doesn’t mean that other lives matter less — it means that too many place less value on the lives of black people. That there are people insisting we erase the word “black lives” from a movement started by black people speaks volumes about just how real that problem is.
So why, if I found his column so distasteful and disagreed with it so vehemently, did I choose to run it?
It’s a fair question. I wish I could say that I have a satisfying answer. I don’t.
In this job I’m put in a position of publishing a lot of opinions I disagree with. That requires setting myself aside and recognizing that people have different perspectives. Many of those perspectives are worthy of discussion and consideration.
Whittaker’s column did not reach that bar. There was nothing useful or insightful in it.
There is a way to talk about race. This wasn’t it.
It didn’t break new ground. It didn’t even try. It was a copy of a copy of a copy of the type of speech that has been used to diminish, demean and hurt people of color for decades in this country.
In bending over backwards in pursuit of the idea of fairness, I gave a platform to a message that didn’t deserve it.
On Thursday afternoon a woman called to express her disappointment — her despair — at what she saw in her newspaper.
“He’s free to have that opinion, but you don’t have to give him space. You don’t have to give him space.”
She’s right. And I was wrong to do so.
Chris Lykins is the executive editor of the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung.