A taste of irony, both bitter and shameful, hangs like an unwanted cloud over Lincoln.
I’m talking about a new billboard in town with this powerful message: "Hate is not welcome here."
Here’s the ironic part: Only a few days after local news media trumpet that billboard and a ceremony heralding the message to the community, Dr. David Gerlach, president of Lincoln College, made public some ugly observations about racism – yes, call it hate – in full display in Lincoln’s midst and aimed at students at the school.
I grew up in these parts. I was educated in the public school system. I worked nearly 45 years at a local newspaper. I know the area well. I also know its people. With all that in mind, I’m not shocked by the college president’s comments. I believe a vast majority of local residents are not prejudiced and are far from being racists. At the same time, I know that a small minority of residents can be ugly and quite offensive in their attitudes toward people of color.
"… I was notified of negative and racially charged portrayals of Lincoln College students being shared on local Facebook profiles," Gerlach wrote in a letter that was published in Lincoln news outlets. "Several of the comments included threats of violence against students and generally implicit racism."
The comments and divisive actions didn’t simply take place in cyberspace; some were more down to earth. "Unfortunately, the bigoted behavior has not been limited to online activities," Gerlach stated. "Our students have also had to endure vehicles displaying confederate flags driving through campus and incidents of shouting insults and threats."
Yep, right here in the middle of Lincoln, that’s going on. Again, I’m not surprised. We all know someone who is not above making racist comments. But few are brazenly open with their viewpoints, although others seem to relish putting their prejudice on full display. I’ve even detected an air of pride in some of the hateful comments I’ve heard during my lifetime.
"I know that the social media comments represent just a tiny handful of individuals and are not representative of the overall Lincoln community," Gerlach stated in his message. "Unfortunately, for students who are young and living away from home for the first time in their lives, a few comments can feel as though the entire community is against them and wants them to feel unwelcome."
As Gerlach correctly pointed out, the Lincoln College community is a diverse body, and I’m guessing it doesn’t accurately reflect the ethnic makeup of the city’s stable population. In recent months, the school touted that its student population included a group sent here to study from mainland China.
From Gerlach: "Our diverse student body enables us to enrich our campus and the Logan County community."
The college chief addressed something that may resonate with both sides of this fence – dollars and cents, not to mention common sense. "Lincoln College has a $53 million annual economic impact on Lincoln and Logan County. All businesses and residents of the community benefit either directly or indirectly from that investment.
"The students that are the target of these attacks are the source of that economic impact. Those who attack our students are, in a very literal sense, biting the hands that feed them."
I sincerely doubt the renegades causing trouble with the Lincoln College students care one iota about the school’s financial impact on the Lincoln area. I suspect their only care in regards to the campus is purging it of the outsiders who don’t belong in their beloved Cornfield County. And, I also suspect they feel their actions in belittling minority students are making meaningful impact. For shame!
I spent my growing-up years around two Tazewell County communities – Hopedale and Armington. As best as I can recall, neither public school system had a single minority student. No Blacks. No Latinos. No Asians (including no Chinese.) The only students who were remotely different from the norm were the Mennonites. And I never once thought about who was in the minority – the Mennonites or the rest of us. We were all white kids.
Truth be told, we all – Mennonites included – had Anglo-Saxon blood, some German, Danish, French, Celtic, etc. etc. running through our veins, which had been clogged with black dirt that brought most of our ancestors to this part of the New World. The only privilege we shared was being white, although none of us ever thought in those terms back in the day. I well remember my family was poor as were the families of several of my schoolmates.
I never associated with a Black person or a Latino until I was drafted in 1969 and sent to a U.S. Army basic training camp at Fort Jackson, S.C. We had several Blacks in our platoon, which also was heavy with draftees from Puerto Rico. My next-door bunk mate was a Puerto Rican medical student who couldn’t hide his anger that the draft board had interrupted his dream of becoming a physician.
Like all Puerto Rican draftees at the time, my friend had been given a three-week instruction, courtesy of the Army, in speaking English. Three weeks is a short time to produce perfect diction, but we got along well and engaged in great conversations.
I interacted with the Black draftees no differently than I got along with those white farm kids during grade and high school years. I guess I never knew there might be a reason to treat them differently. At the time, we all seemed like human beings, with two legs, two arms, a heart and a head that had never been filled with hate for my fellow earthly citizens.
Well, that new billboard offers the correct message for not only Lincoln and Logan County, but for all the world. Hate, indeed, is not welcome here. We need to use our hands to reach out, not throw stones.
Dr. Gerlach summed it up well: "Please show kindness and patience to our Lincoln College students, as well as the entire community."
Dan Tackett is a retired managing editor of The Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
via Lincoln Courier
September 20, 2020 at 10:23AM