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Let’s open our souls to transform our nation

Dear Editor:

About three weeks ago, a friend and I were biking on the High Bridge Trail. We stopped to drink from our water bottles and began talking to a couple who had also stopped.

The man was the father of two boys I had helped years ago–I am now retired as a school counselor from Prince Edward County Schools. He recognized me, and I remembered him and his boys fondly. When I noticed that he was armed, I asked why he would need a firearm on the trail. He replied that a few weeks earlier he had been accosted by some “tough white guys” who pushed him around while he was out walking alone.

Nodding, I said, “I understand what you’re saying, and I’m sorry.” Having worked for 30 years in the Prince Edward County School System, I had heard many stories from my African-American colleagues and friends of how their husbands, brothers, sons, and other male family members have been insulted, harassed, and sometimes roughed up by white policemen.

My husband, a professor at Hampden-Sydney College, has known African-American students who while driving to campus were repeatedly pulled over and hectored by police officers.

Now we are in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. And some white folks still do not understand the frustration, humiliation, and cruelty that African-Americans regularly confront because of the color of their skin. Perhaps white folk do not understand the abuse that African-Americans suffer because they don’t experience it themselves and because they lack the empathy they might have gained if their schools had taught them systematically what their ancestors perpetrated on their fellow human beings.

I remember when as a high school junior in Tyler, Texas, in a class on the Civil War, my history teacher expanded on states’ rights and on the war’s major battles. The issue of slavery was either downplayed or omitted altogether. My point is that I did not learn in any meaningful way in high school about slavery in North America, or how our country’s founding fathers, by writing slavery into the U.S. Constitution, committed what has justly been called America’s “original sin.”

Because as a nation we have not committed ourselves to atoning for this sin, we have allowed racism to carry on. Until our country unites behind a systematic reparative penance similar to those penances Germany and South Africa have tried, and until we support fairness towards African-Americans in all respects and with our full hearts—in housing, healthcare, education, employment opportunities, wages, and friendship—we shall never have a flourishing, peaceful society.

It is my hope that we can open up our souls to transform our nation.

Barbara A. Arieti

Hampden-Sydney