10 years searching for truth about racism THE EVENING SUN SETS AT 85

September 15, 1995|By WILEY A. HALL

This is goodbye. My column, which turned 10 years old in August, dies with this newspaper, which is ceasing publication after 85 years. I am leaving because the Baltimore Sun has elected not to transfer the column from the evening paper to the morning paper.

And so, both my column and The Evening Sun end today.

Goodbye.

I had not planned to say this. I had planned to disappear as quietly as this paper disappears, switched off like a light, snuffed out like a candle, going silently and gently into the deep night. My friends and family will tell you I am like this. I can be romantic, sentimental, overly dramatic. At the same time, I don't like scenes.

But my original plan left me without a sense of closure. Writing a column is like conducting an ongoing dialogue with readers. My plan to leave without saying goodbye would have been like cutting off a conversation in mid-sentence. And that would have been unfair to those readers who have supported me loyally this past decade.

Readers may not have agreed with me -- not even my parents agreed with everything I wrote. But readers always seemed to respect my point of view; seemed to appreciate the diversity represented by my opinions; seemed ready and willing to take me on through vigorous debate.

It has been a wild ride, these past 10 years. I have had a ball.

Goodbye.

Recently, I went back and reviewed my output since 1985 in order to put together an anthology of my Evening Sun columns "Urban Rhythms, Urban Blues." The columns in the book will focus on life in the big city as lived by ordinary people and as filtered through the prism of my personality. "Urban Rhythms, Urban Blues" should be out this fall.

My review gave me an interesting trip through time. I discovered that my areas of focus haven't changed much: I wrote about crime and its devastating impact on victims and their families; about parents and children struggling to squeeze a meaningful education out of under-funded schools; about ordinary people such as you and me trying to make sense out of the bombastic ramblings of our elected officials.

But I also found that I wrote a lot about race over the past few years -- race as it affects the administration of justice, our decisions regarding public education, the workplace, and the images our society chooses to propagate through the media. When I raised such issues some of my readers called me a racist. Racial issues were the most controversial topics I wrote about; the topics were guaranteed to make readers angry.

It is as if we have grown into a society of ostriches, with our heads buried in the sand and our tail feathers in the air. We do not want to hear what we cannot understand. And we cannot understand the race issue because we refuse to listen to each other.

Listen: Our instincts are all wrong regarding race. Blacks find it too easy to label all whites racist. This makes it easy for blacks to dismiss white concerns when they disagree with us; we ignore their perspectives.

Whites seem too comfortable with the portrait of blacks as professional whiners who try to get something for nothing by using race as a trump card.

Blacks sometimes exaggerate the effect of racism on our lives. Whites act as though racism doesn't exist at all.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. It is a dangerous truth that we must not be afraid to explore.

A newspaper columnist's job is to raise those very issues -- such as race -- that people least want to confront; to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable; to come galloping down out of the mountains after the battle is over to shoot the wounded. To be a newspaper columnist is to be fired with a tremendous sense of mission.

I believe I will miss it.

I believe I will miss that dialogue with my readers.

I am sure I will miss The Evening Sun, this 85-year-old rag, this grand old gal.

But that sense of mission remains.

And so, fare thee well.

If I don't see you again in this life, I'll catch you in the next.

Goodbye.

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