I had a sobering revelation partway through the Louisburg Town Council meeting recently where town leaders were discussing whether or not to move the Confederate Monument that has been on North Main Street for the last 106 years.
The revelation came as Councilman Christopher Neal recalled growing up in Louisburg and being prohibited from even walking across the Louisburg College campus when he was a youngster because of the color of his skin.
"Can you imagine how that made me feel?" he asked fellow town board members.
I realized I could not imagine how he felt.
Couldn't even pretend to imagine how a young child -- say 7 or 8 years old -- would feel facing discrimination that blatant and that devastating. Racism that cut to the very heart of his being, something he could do nothing to change. And which, as a child, he could not possibly understand.
And that's when I realized that we of the "pale complexions" are really out of our league during these discussions. We can say we understand, that we can feel the sting of discrimination, that we can understand the humiliation of being discriminated against for no reason other than the tone of your skin.
But we can't. Not really. Not at the emotional level that those who have actually faced that devastating level of discrimination have felt deep in their psyche.
Granted, as an adult, I can imagine the anger and frustration that such discrimination would trigger -- and I can clearly visualize fighting against it in every way possible.
Even if either of my kids or either of my grandchildren experienced such blatant discrimination, I can imagine the anger, frustration and temptation to commit violence that I would feel. And know, without a doubt, that I would do everything in my power to battle such mindless, judgmental, blindly stupid reactions in people who should -- who must -- know better.
But that's not what Chris Neal asked.
He asked, "can you imagine how that made me feel?"
He wasn't asking how you would feel as an adult. By then, you've become used to difficult situations and unfair judgments. By the time you're an adult, you've learned that bad things happen, that you can't control every event, that sometimes the world is just damn unfair.
But as a child? No, I can't imagine because children don't have the "thick skin" that helps deflect harsh judgments. As a result, such insults and unfair judgment tend to "cut" deeply -- and aren't forgotten -- ever!
Facing such incredibly unfair judgement for no reason other than their skin tone will have a life-long impact on their self image and how they see the world around them as long as they walk this earth.
It was then that I realized I can't understand how a young, innocent Christopher Neal felt, and I've come to the conclusion than none of us "pale faces" have the ability to understand -- to truly feel and understand -- the impact of such racism on the lives of others, especially young people.
That was a rather shocking realization for me because I've always tried to empathize with others, to put myself in their shoes and, to strive, not always perfectly, to treat others as I'd like to be treated.
Realizing that is impossible left a very uncomfortable feeling -- but it was easier to understand after watching a televised interview with documentary film maker Ken Burns.
Burns has done a lot of incredible documentary film work, but the project I remember most was his award-winning, multi-part series on the American Civil War. I watched it so many times on the History Channel (back when it was a history channel) that Donna bought me the complete set of CDs which, if I can ever retire, I plan to watch repeatedly until I begin to understand how we Americans could be so stupid as to have fought that war, killing each other.
But I digress.
As Burns was being interviewed, he was questioned about the Black Lives Matter movement, the effort to remove various symbols of racism and to rename some buildings to try to make them more compatible with the 21st Century America we'd like to live in.
He had an interesting reaction.
"I think it's time we just listen," he said, explaining that the "we" in that sentence meant we of the paler complexions.
He said his years of work researching and documenting the Civil War and the struggles that caused it made him realize that African-Americans have endured a lot that we pale Americans simply can't understand and can't identify with, no matter how hard we try.
Instead, he suggested, it's time we pale faces just listen to the voices of this movement and try to learn from what we hear.
That seemed to be pretty insightful advice, especially after having so recently faced my own inability to imagine how a child might have felt and been affected by blatant racism that happened, not 150 years ago, but during my lifetime.
So, I'm going to spend a lot of time listening, learning and trying to sort through what I hear from the many and varied voices on all sides.
But that's not all I'm going to do, however.
While I -- maybe, we if you'll join me? -- may not be able to understand how blatant prejudice affects others so deeply, we can do our part to help lessen the incidents of racism in the community, state and nation where we live.
The first goal, I think, should be the easiest to achieve but, in reality, will be the most difficult because there are so many forces in play that tip the scale of justice.
We all -- every one of us -- need to commit to the concept, the ideal, of equal justice for all -- and whenever we get the chance, to do and say whatever we can to further the ideal that everyone should be treated equally and fairly under the law.
The second goal, locally at least, is to work to help find things for young people -- black, white, Hispanic, Asians and others -- to do.
We must create better recreational opportunities for all local children -- and make sure that they have access to the programs that exist.
So many of our recreational programs now tend to be geared for adults, and that's fine. We understand, adults vote and pay taxes.
But we need more and better facilities -- and means of access -- so that local young people have positive things to do, to keep them busy, help them set goals, learn to work and play with others and become the kind of adults that our community needs.
And yes, without a --doubt, we need a swimming pool -- or pools, not only for recreation but also for safety.
Franklin County has talked about this need since the end of World War II. It's time to shut up -- and get to work building it (or them!)
We also need to look at housing opportunities and find ways to make housing for the less fortunate less expensive and much more efficient.
It's a downward cycle when so much of our housing for the poor is of such poor quality that their utility bills are through the roof. They can't get ahead in a system that, for whatever reason, is rigged against them.
Next, we all have to commit to the idea of free and fair elections -- and giving everyone the opportunity to vote.
We've all seen -- and sometimes pretended not to see -- increasing efforts at voter suppression in recent years and that is wrong, wrong, wrong.
It seems so simple. One man (or one woman), one vote.
But we all have to become vigilant about voter rights -- and voter opportunities. To my knowledge, we haven't had a major problem with voter suppression here in Franklin County and we have to be sure that success continues.
But at the statewide -- and increasingly at the national level -- that's not been the case and this year, because of COVID-19, the issue of voting rights will be in very sharp focus.
If we want to preserve our system of government and our way of life, we have to keep elections free, fair and open to all Americans.
Finally, for now at least, we need to take a hard look at this horribly named effort to "Defund the Police."
I suspect that no one but complete idiots are suggesting that we abolish policing authority in this country. That makes no sense.
Instead, what I think defunding the police is about is reallocating some of the vast amounts of money we are spending on both police and incarceration efforts and use that precious tax money for other things.
In recent years, we've seen policing becoming increasingly para-military and we've watched as vast amounts of tax money have been thrown at policing, jails and prisons to the point where our nation has more people behind bars than any other nation on earth.
Maybe it's time to rethink that just a bit.
Some cities are finding that sending unarmed but highly trained personnel out to respond to some situations of domestic violence or child abuse is more effective.
Police officers are taught to "control" a situation and often hard-edged efforts at control simply escalate the situation and make it worse.
Often, or so I'm been told and read, a calm voice and a calm demeanor can help de-escalate a situation and turn a volatile situation into something manageable and maybe even positive.
That's been happening in many cities across the country so it is a proven technique -- and we should look at it here.
Policing, state, county and local, is extremely expensive and chews up a lot of tax dollars, some of which might be spent more wisely in other ways but so often election officials just tack on a percentage increase annually and automatically approve large expenditures without looking at alternatives.
Maybe expanding some intervention services could help deter arrests and ease the pressure on our prisons and jails -- and save lives.
Perhaps more recreation opportunities would keep our kids busy, off the streets and away from the temptations of drugs and street violence. And save lives.
Possibly having better counseling and career advice services, especially for young adults, could help direct them toward more positive futures. And save lives.
What I know for sure is that what we are doing -- and not doing -- isn't working very well for a lot of people and that includes people of all races and genders.
We can do better.
We pale faces may never be able to fully understand the effects of blind prejudice on children, teens and adults -- but if we don't start making the effort to move toward a better tomorrow for everyone, then there will be no peace in the streets for any of us.
We're not stupid. We can fix this.
Now the question is whether we have the courage and commitment to even try.
In the meantime, enjoy the upcoming holiday -- and stay safe, from both the fireworks and the virus!