Both sides have to listen in black-white dialogue

May 24, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

From time to time, Richard T. Seymour of Catonsville will come across something in the news about blacks that causes lTC him to shake his head in disgust and exclaim, "There they go again!"

"But then I'll catch myself and remember, 'Wait a minute, they aren't all like that,' " says Mr. Seymour. "I'll think: Bill isn't like that. Dave isn't like that. A lot of the black people I do business with or come into contact with during the day -- they aren't like that. I'm painting blacks with a broad brush. Does this mean I'm prejudiced?" Mr. Seymour asks me rhetorically. "I don't know."

So then I confess to Mr. Seymour that from time to time, I find myself shaking my head with equal disgust about whites.

"So, you see, it's a Catch-22," says Mr. Seymour. "The circle of prejudice just goes around and around and on and on."

Not long ago, I wrote a column about how some businesses exclude black models from their advertising, thus sending a subtle message that such firms do not welcome black patronage. It was the sort of commentary that made Richard T. Seymour shake his head in disgust and exclaim, "There they go again!"

So Mr. Seymour -- who owns an advertising business -- sent me copies of Ebony and Essence magazines. And he wrote me an angry letter pointing out that nobody ever "comes down hard on the rampant racism of 'black publications.' "

"Blacks are always crying 'race'," said Mr. Seymour after I called him yesterday. "I mean, fair is fair. You've got black magazines, you've got black student unions on college campuses, you've got a Black Entertainment Television station on cable, and a Congressional Black Caucus in Washington. Blacks get away with racism that whites would never be allowed to get away with. If you're going to complain about one, you've got to complain about the other."

Actually, there were a substantial number of white models included in the ads in the very issues of Ebony and Essence that Mr. Seymour sent me. Nevertheless, I think he has a point: Most blacks, I suspect, would be profoundly offended by a magazine that celebrated white culture and heritage with the fervor that Ebony celebrates African American culture. A Congressional White Caucus in Washington? No way!

Are blacks guilty of a double standard with regard to racism?

"First of all, the Congressional Black Caucus has never disallowed white members -- we have approximately 26 associate members who are white," said Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the caucus chairman, when I put my question to him yesterday. "Second, the caucus exists to leverage opportunity and enforce change for black people. In the absence of a civil rights movement, the caucus is one of the most important vehicles for change that blacks have."

Mr. Mfume said that most whites either are unaware of the continued disparities between blacks and whites in this society or they don't care.

"There is a feeling in the larger community that 'We've done enough for blacks. We don't want to do any more,' " said Mr. Mfume. "But, in fact, every major indicator suggests that the disparities are even more stark than they were 30 years ago. I hope and pray for a time when we won't need a black caucus," he said. "But realistically, I don't expect that time to occur in my lifetime."

John H. Johnson, the publisher and chief executive officer of Ebony Magazine, makes a similar point: "Until the two races are meshed or merged or integrated, you will need both 'white' and 'black' media," Mr. Johnson said in a 1984 interview, provided by his office yesterday. "If we somehow reach a point in this country when race will no longer be a factor, then Ebony will simply serve all the people. In fact, Ebony would be a greater success than its white competitors, simply because black people have more experience studying and meeting the needs of whites than white people have had studying and meeting the needs of blacks."

Yesterday, Mr. Seymour conceded he was unaware of many of the continued problems that make blacks feel they have to organize for change.

And, I conceded something too: Maybe blacks are too quick to cry "racism" whenever whites question our goals. Maybe both sides must learn to listen.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.