Now and Then, a Reason to Hope

CARL T. ROWAN

September 14, 1993|By CARL T. ROWAN

Washington. -- There are times when I think I could go a little nuts trying to determine whether mankind is rising slowly out of the dark pit of racism, or sinking deeper into it.

It is so easy to lapse into rage, or despair, when you read that two white men in Florida have kidnaped a black man, doused him with gasoline, and left him to burn to death.

But then you see the two men convicted of these heinous crimes and remember that 40 years ago they probably would not have been indicted by a Florida grand jury; if indicted, they would not have been prosecuted vigorously, and would not have been found guilty by an overwhelmingly white jury.

In my mail Wednesday I read letters from New Jersey and Illinois that were so viciously racist that they made me wonder if it is hopeless to work for a mutuality of racial respect in America. Then I thought of Tuesday's Senate vote confirming as U.S. surgeon general the daughter of a black Arkansas sharecropper.

Thirty-four senators voted against confirming Dr. Joycelyn Elders but not one expressed any doubt about her because of her race. Some called her ''the condom queen'' because she advocates the availability of latex protection for teen-agers who won't heed her call for abstention from sexual intercourse. Others said she was ''bigoted and intolerant'' in her criticism of -- the Catholic church and its stand on abortion. But none said, as would have been the case a generation ago, that this was not the job for a woman, especially a black woman.

The protests of angry Israelis on one hand, and hate-driven Palestinians on the other, might suggest that nothing can ever change a millennium of animosities in the Middle East. But then ** men such as Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat put their very lives on the line in trying to bring peace to this most dangerous area of the world.

It can be woefully depressing to look at South Africa where crazed white racists are declaring war and black Zulu leaders are wallowing in violent egomania as they, for different reasons, try to block elections next April 27 in which blacks, whites, Asians, coloreds and all other citizens can vote as equals.

But do they matter more than the overriding reality that saner whites and blacks are risking their lives, their children's futures, to move South Africa away from white minority dictatorship and nation-destroying apartheid?

We have our buzz phrases. Mention ''white settlers,'' ''Palestinian terrorists,'' ''black militants'' or ''Zionist extremists'' and you cloud minds with assumptions that these groups rule and befoul human societies, and always will.

I can never rejoice in full throat about any single sign of waning bigotry. The enemies of social change and human progress do have a loud and menacing presence on the American and world stages. They always will. But they are dictating and ruling less and less, and that keeps me from going bonkers.

From West Palm Beach to Washington, Jerusalem to Johannesburg, there is some evidence that we humans are seizing a bit of the driftwood of wisdom from the bloody river of time.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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