That’s because racism is not limited to Confederate statues or white supremacists carrying torches; it is more insidious. As author Ijeoma Oluo explained to NPR: “What’s actually been impacting our lives are systems that rely on subtle and not so subtle biases against people of color to disempower us and put us at risk. And so we’ve been fighting for job opportunities, for safety from violence, for equal education, for freedom from medical racism. And that is upheld not by how you love or don’t love people of color but by how you participate with our systems.”
Some supporters have come to Quiring’s defense, arguing that she is entitled to her opinion and using her right to free speech. Indeed, she is. But some of the hallmarks of good leadership are a willingness to listen, to learn, and to understand the experiences of others. Quiring oversees a county of 500,000 people; dismissing the experiences of those who don’t personally know deputies and judges seems arrogant and shortsighted.
So does Quiring’s response at a later council meeting, when the idea of a listening session about systemic racism was brought up. Saying she would prefer to wait until some of the vitriol has died down, Quiring said she would like to include people “over 40 (years old) who have experienced a little bit more of history and, maybe, not experienced some of the rewriting of history that’s taken place in some of our education system.”
That, in many ways, encapsulates the entire issue. In Quiring’s world, the problem isn’t systemic racism, it’s the educational system that now dares to point out that racism. It’s not systemic racism, it’s these confounded young people and their desire to challenge wrongs and work to right them. It’s not systemic racism, it’s that people different from her now have the temerity to think they can speak up and be heard. It’s not systemic racism, it’s that the world is changing and she is not equipped to handle it. Never mind that it might be changing for the better, with the long arc of history bending toward justice.
Facilitating that righteous bend is the duty of elected officials, a duty that is obscured when those officials insist that history should be a line rather than an arc. That everything is fine and change is unnecessary. That systemic racism does not exist.
Change is coming, not because of a rewriting of history, but because it is the right thing to do.
And we can adapt or be buried by it.