New Tack Needed in Racism Battle ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

June 11, 1993

Civil rights activists need to find a better way to reach the Richard Johnses of the world.

Mr. Johns is a white Annapolitan. Last Saturday, during the Rev. Jesse Jackson's picketing at the Annapolis Denny's, he held up a sign that probably spoke for many people: "Denny's does not discriminate. They just serve food late. Jackson Go Home."

Are such people racists? No. They are just tired of hearing about discrimination. Either they wrongly believe racism no longer exists or they feel society can't do any more than it already has to eliminate it. When someone alleges racial discrimination, as six black Secret Service agents did after Denny's failed to serve them, they figure there must be some persecution complex at work. They also feel defensive, as though they personally are to blame for a great evil.

Some civil rights protesters -- Mr. Jackson foremost among them -- exacerbate these feelings by making collective accusations against whites. Perhaps at one time this was a valid tactic. But it becomes increasingly apparent that vitriolic indictments of white society are provoking the opposite effect of what civil rights leaders say they want -- to make people listen and think about racial injustice that still pollutes life in America. People like Mr. Johns have stopped listening. They see Mr. Jackson outside Denny's and don't bother to wait for what he has to say. They already know, so their reaction is automatic. They take offense. And they deny.

Civil rights leaders bear an urgent, vital message. But if they want those who aren't paying attention to do so, they must change the way they convey it. They need to be less inflammatory and more reasonable.

They need to stop treating every allegation of racism as fact; if Mr. Jackson had acknowledged that Denny's might be innocent, perhaps Mr. Johns would have considered that the agents might have been treated unfairly. They also need to winnow out the frivolous complaints, which weaken the battle against racial discrimination.

Finally, they need to appeal to whites as allies in the fight against discrimination instead of inferring that they are all enemies.

Until they do, they can expect more of the same: denials, misunderstanding and tortoise-like progress.

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