Things Not Seen: Making Amends

President Obama Joins Mourners At Funeral Of Rev. Clementa Pinckney





Photo by Paul Zoeller-Pool/Getty Images

In the aftermath of the recent racially motivated shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, I feel the weight of systemic prejudice and racism, still alive in our country today. I’ve been reflecting upon President Obama’s eulogy for one of nine victims, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney.

President Obama said the murderer might have hoped that his act would “deepen divisions that traced back to our Nation’s original sin.” I have never heard slavery referred to in this way. It feels right if his statement also applies to crimes against Native Americans and other similarly oppressed people.

Although slavery was outlawed a long time ago in our country, many people are still entrapped by the color of their skin, and struggle to overcome systemic disadvantages put in place by our dominant predecessors. It has me wondering what privileges and benefits I have received unknowingly at the expense of enslaved and oppressed people. In what ways am I contributing to the status quo?

I’m embarrassed to say that only recently have I begun to contemplate all of this. I can’t help feeling guilty about the actions of those who preceded me. Today, the descendants of oppressed people still contend with limitations and prejudices put in place hundreds of years ago.

I hope the shootings will ultimately force us to confront how prevalent these ongoing problems are, and that we commit ourselves to seeing each other’s experiences more clearly.

The recognition of African American suffering is just the beginning.

Like President Obama expressed in his eulogy, I share the hope that this incident will motivate us to treat each other better and begin to heal this centuries long wound.

What ideas do you have to help address this problem?

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15 Responses to Things Not Seen: Making Amends

  1. lm210 says:

    Systematic racism, racial or gender segregation and bigotry or homophobia still continue to this day; in many ways and forms that managed, many times a year, to pass unnoticed disguised as other forms. Black and native american people have suffered that more than anyone in this country; yet Latin Americans, Asians, Jews, LGBTQ2S people and other minorities have endured oppression and discrimination by the status of this country, since its foundation. Today’s semi- new segregation system, is ostracism and oppresion through racial slandering, bigoted slandering, defamation to many Jews, some Muslims, slandering to vulnerable LGBTQ2S and slandering to immigrant people among other forms.

    When people that happen to be white and prominent in the status quo of in this country; people like Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee and Fox News political pundit Ann Coulter; make extremely racist and bigoted and homophobic remarks to Hispanics and LGBTQ2S people, their remarks are not accidental, it is calculated to tap in the long held beliefs of at least 33% of Americans, if not more.

    They know exactly what they are doing, they want to rein, lead, influence and stir these people towards a very selfish and callous agenda; an agenda that ultimately will benefit them; whomever turns out to be the chosen and official republican candidate will then have to sit down to negotiate with them and to do an arrangement to obtain their final endorsement, so they (Trump, HHuckabee, etc) get out of the way and the official republican candidate in turn get the vote of these ignorant and very fearfully prone people.

    Hence, in my opinion it is this kind of fear and ignorance of the different one, the alien or of what is new, that must be addressed by the most enlighten and educated ones, in a new and creative way that we haven’t yet conceived.

    As a rare mix of all the minorities I have mentioned above, I have suffered countless oppression, slander and assault in many ways and forms. Sometimes I wondered how I had managed to survived and continue to survived all of that.

    I do have hopes for the future though. This week, when news that leftover symbols of oppression and suffering to countless African Americans and others, like the confederate flag; are taking down from official buildings of southern states, and their sale stopped by major retailers, and even forbidden by DMV’s from being stamped on automobiles’ license plates I rejoiced.

    I also rejoiced when the news that Obamacare has been affirmed through Medicare to help the middle class, the poor, the old and the disenfranchised, which shows that the rich and billionaires are not only, the only ones, always being taken care of by unjust laws in this country.

    I rejoiced fully when our country the USA, is now the 21st in the world to have nationwide same sex marriage, because it shows that Love, as someone once put it, has become legal for everyone on this country. Best regards to you Eileen for owning to any possible part of your privileged group, in the wounds of our the past and to confront the new ones perpetrated by a system that hopefully one day will not have that big of a scope and it has still today. Sincerely,

    Manny. (Luis O.)

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Dear Manny, I too rejoice in the recent Supreme Court decisions, which impact so many good people in positive ways; gay marriage and health care, topping the list. I hope it brings you hope that there are good things happening, even for those who have suffered. May joy be yours.

  2. Hi Eileen, Your sadness over the Charleston, South Carolina shooting is shared by all, as you know. Television, for better, or worse, and other mediums that give us a look at the world’s news, instantly because of digital technoplogy rock our world at times. What would I do, if I had decision making authority over a sizeable investment “portfolio”? I would address the issues that you have raised in your article at shareholder meetings.
    Today, there are so many “uppity” think tanks research organizations that publish, healthy foundations with well managed programs (e.g., Rockefeller Foundation, Gates Foundation and others ) that have genuine worthwhile interests. Remember those women who were supported by the “majors and mentors”, when women were still trying to attain equal statuses? SHAREHOLDERS CARED. I think finding ways to educate people helps dig out the “problems” many have. Mentorships are great, volunteers are valued and often obtain employment, thereafter. Free days at museums are “jam” packed… Someone has to restart the rally!

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      “Restart the Rally.” I think that should be a bumper sticker. Good phrase Elaine!

  3. lulu550 says:

    If every person took 5 minutes each day to search out someone who needs a kind word of encouragement and acknowledgement they are as worthy as you and I are….
    Let those who express negativity toward others your dislike and how you expected better from them and will not support their projects or remarks.
    Share wisdom, knowledge, teach ……

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Wonderful ideas. It takes the whole village to change such deeply entrenched fears, biases, and horrific acts. Kindness, one on one, and two by two, keeps multiplying. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Lawrence Dahu Harris says:

    Good day Eileen,
    I’m from New York City which is probably one of the most segregated places on this earth. To me this is one of the most fundamental principles of the “Willie Lynch Letter”, which focused on the theory of separation for full control over a certain group of people (African American People) for economic benefit. However, in our present day every system from economic, education, social and the gravest of them all the “Judicial system” is fundamentally divided by race. People should be able to migrate, live, gain lawful employment anywhere in this so called ‘land of the free’. However this isn’t the case. Case in point for a long time until the ACLU filed a successful civil lawsuit against the New York City Fire Department. Individuals in NYC filing for the Fire Dept exam would be denied to go pass the psychological process based on their address. Most of the applicants being denied were minority groups of people from urban areas of the city. After a successful challenge in Civil court. the New York City’s Fire Department recently had its most ethnic diverse graduating class ever! Addresses of minority individuals by itself systematical cancels them out from opportunities, How can we change this. One way to challenge this is to stop creating areas of the city based on race. We need to dis-shelve the practices of allowing designated geographic areas for specific ethnic groups to live. Lets do away with that first. I should be able to find an apartment as an African American in China town, Little Italy, Howard beach, certain parts of Williamsburg, and in any part of the country where other ethic groups are predominately the main group of people residing there. I think if we start there first then we could challenge the other segregation of all people that is based on wealth. Lets allow mixed income in all newly created buildings. This is another prejudice that systematically hinders the development of our youth of today. It can change many people’s way of thinking if they were able to live together, go to school together, shop from the same supermarkets together, get the same services as their counterparts. It would encourage the former underprivileged young person to reach for the same achievements as their privileged coequals. We need to end the practices of calling all post-secondary educational institutions as Ivory league or even Black colleges etc .. The theory of segregation continues to be played out systematically by people of color and their counterparts in this manner. The landmark Supreme Court decision in the case of “Brown vs. Board Of Education” supposedly crushed these types of practices, however segregation continues because of legal loop holes. Lets start from scratch as if we all just came to this country. Lets apply the rights of others into this equation from the Indians to the African Americans even to all the people who came through Ellis Island. Lets knock down the walls of segregation by living together, going to school together, working together, and making laws together for all people to abide by. This way the young will grow up not looking at issues through a black and white spectrum. As a former individual sentenced under the Rockefeller drug law to 62 1/2 years to life. I’m now one of the green leaders in our communities fighting poverty levels and climate change, enriching the visions of our disconnected youth to view a better path of success. I don’t see things anymore through this black and white spectrum even though it exists. I see change by changing the mindsets of multiple diverse ethnic young people because they are the future of this country.

    Lawrence Dahu Harris,
    Senior Team Leader,
    Green City Force,
    630 Flushing Ave, 8th Floor,
    Brooklyn, NY 11201,
    Email: [email protected]

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      I applaud you for your efforts Lawrence. And as the niece of the late Governor Rockefeller, I was in the majority of my family who felt ashamed of how he handled the Drug law. I’m glad you are free to devote your life to helping others. You have a unique and valuable perspective. Stay the course and others will join from your example. Blessings to you.

  5. Curtis C. Carwise says:

    Here’s how we address the problem: That Vermont charm. I’m black–the sole African-American male who attended the Justin Morgan Horse Show earlier today in Vermont to bear witness to stunningly beautiful horses. I was asked repeatedly by strangers which one was my horse, assuming that I was either a rider in the competitions or one of the owners. (It never occurred to many that I might just be a spectator, if not a mere out of towner.) Charming. I started chatting up one such rider about random things, including my interests in horses and writing–her passions–and within minutes befriending her and her husband, known only to me as Eileen and Paul. I took a photo with Eileen shortly after our introduction–and a few videos of her winning performances. I then began doing my schtick: rooting for her–sometimes too loudly–and she and her husband took notice, as he occasionally sat next to her in the horse carriage portions of the competition.

    Several hours later, the competition concluded. As I departed, a photo was being snapped of me with another rider, and I noticed Paul walking from afar towards my direction. He seemed to be waiting patiently to get my attention, and even suggested removing my hat before it was snapped because it was blocking my face. He not only then personably adjusted my hat but then respectfully removed it, all the while insisting he held it while my photo was being taken with this other rider. Oh the humanity! After the photo was taken, that’s when he whispered something along the lines of: “Thanks for rooting for my wife. If you’re interested in finding out more about how she discovered a passion for horses, you can read about the journey in her book ‘Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself: A Memoir” by Eileen Rockefeller.’

    It wasn’t until that final moment was it revealed that I was talking to a major philanthropist, and only in the context of extending our earlier friendly conversations. I researched her and was amazed at the simpatico of our closely-held beliefs–her forward-thinking instrumental role in emotional intelligence which I’ve used to rally against in hiring on IQ alone; her active support of animals, her countless philanthropic efforts, and on and on. But until that very moment, she and her husband were merely two very friendly people casually gabbing back and forth in response to my silly puns–just as any other would in every other walk of life: human to human. This has consistently been my experience here; EVERYONE has been so atypically kind to me. How eager I am to one day move to Vermont. I love it here. That Vermont charm. Governmental programs help; social movements change. But I can’t underscore my negative experiences regarding race any stronger without my personal reality of positive ones such as today: treating another human as a human matters most. We simply need more of that, more of you, more of humanity. Thank you so much for demonstrating that so effectively today. Both it, and you matter; and it was sincerely, naturally, and deeply felt.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Dear Curtis, the beauty of your writing and the story that unfolded above, brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for reading and writing on my blog. I really enjoyed meeting you and your sister Maureen, and your mother, Thelma, yesterday at the horse show in Tunbridge. For the record, your cheering did not feel too loud! I was encouraged! We all need people in the cheering section as we take risks in life. More power to you in whatever you do. And tell your sister and mother how much I enjoyed meeting them too.

      I wish I could say that all of Vermont would be as welcoming. I hope it would, but I just know that there are people everywhere who hurt others, usually because they are hurting inside. I hope you do move to Vermont, but I wouldn’t want you to be disillusioned if you ran into someone who was unkind to you, for it happens everywhere. But yes, yesterday there was a great feeling among the crowd, and you and your family were part of creating that feeling. Perhaps the beauty of the horses and carriages inspired the warmth in all our hearts. Thanks again.

      • Cee says:

        Hi Eileen. As a second-time visitor to Vermont, I’m certainly guilty of romanticizing it–based on my assumedly limited but wonderful interactions with its citizens. Your cautionary words are well taken and appreciated. I suppose the lesson to be learned is that there exists both good and bad to found anywhere, anytime. I’ve only experienced good here, so far, and it’s that gift of remembering from random encounters that humanity is not only alive and well, but easily found…even when you’re neither seeking nor expecting it. So a simplistic solution to addressing this problem is for we likeminded folks to merely: Keep Going. Thank you so much.

        • “The most racist places in America, according to Google”:

          Dear Curtis,

          I am glad you have a good impression of Vermont and that you were well welcome by Eilleen and Paul at that gathering, they indeed are genuine individuals that are extraordinarily well educated, not just in the mind but more importantly, in the heart where it counts the most.

          As a minority I have found very kind and amazing people like Eileen, Paul and others in this community, they even saved my life actually; but I have also found that —as Eileen put it: “[…]there are people everywhere who hurt others”— and unfortunately she is right in cautioning you, because Vermont is not the exception, not even by a mile, when it comes to hurt others as I had experienced and suffered, as it turns out: the south part or half part of it is now listed, according to Google latest meta-analysis (done above three weeks ago) for searches of the n-word and other indicators: as one of the Most Racist Places in America (in fact, among the More Much than Average ones!) here below is a link to one of the many articles describing Google’s findings:

          Please read it fully, there this is written:

          “Interestingly, on the map above the most concentrated cluster of racist searches happened not in the South, but rather along the spine of the Appalachians running from Georgia all the way up to New York and southern Vermont.”.

          Although off course not all Vermont southerners are racist, bigots or fear-mongers, are a sizable group of them, and they bring their hate to places they constantly visit up north, like Shelburne and Burlington and all over Vermont, so be careful.

          Thank you for cheering for Eileen, and for being a good human being too who appreciates and extols the kindness of strangers, because in doing so, you yourself show who you are and it makes the world a better place. I hope you could join us in Vermont and that one day you could count me as one of your friends, if we ever meet. If you decide to move to Vermont though; as least you will do so, not by illusions of it, but with your eyes wide open to the actual reality in it. Best Regards,

          Louie M. Oropeza (Manny).

          • eileenrockefeller says:

            I love seeing the support engendered by complete strangers. My overarching belief is that while bad things can happen everywhere, we are at choice to create meaning. My hope would be that where ever you move, Curtis, that you surround yourself with supportive and caring people. And let whatever negative remarks made to you sink through your feet into the ground. The earth can take our troubles and compost them into good. Take good care, Eileen

  6. Lawrence Dahu Harris says:

    Good morning Eileen,
    I meant to have shared this Sierra Club featured article of me earlier this year. I hope you can enjoy it and I want to thank you for your support years ago for the repealing of the Rockefeller Drug Law. Here is the link of the beautiful article the Sierra Club had did on me:

    When I came home and took advantage of the positive resources that was created by Obama’s Stimulus Package also know as the American Recovery Reinvestment Act {ARRA} allow me to do what I do today. I want to thank you and society for believing in me.

    Lawrence Dahu Harris
    Senior Team Leader,
    Green City Force,
    630 Flushing Ave, 8th Floor
    Email: [email protected]

  7. eileenrockefeller says:

    Lawrence, you’re a good man. I have just finished wiping tears after reading your article. That you beat the odds repeatedly and not only convinced a man to put down his gun, but then have him applying at Green City Force, shows that you have valuable skills of persuasion. You will go far in life. Keep up the good work and stay in touch. Blessings to you, Eileen

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