Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


TRUITT'S JOB IS TO STAND WITH SCHOOL CHILDREN, NOT POLITICAL PATRONS: As an independently elected statewide leader her focus should be, regardless of partisan leanings, on North Carolina’s public-school students, the concerns of their parents, the necessary instructional resources, welfare and working conditions of classroom teachers and support for educational staff and administrators. If that were the case, her reaction late last month to the Senate’s budget would have been very different. She would have accurately noted – instead of ignored -- that the Senate’s spending plan falls far short of the true and desperate needs of public schools. The Senate’s spending plan continues a documented legacy of neglect. Legislative leaders don’t need any more cheerleaders. But the school children of North Carolina do. Truitt must stand up for the public schools – the students, teachers, staff and administrators -- she was elected to lead.

CRIMINALIZING MARIJUANA UNFAIRLY HURT MANY. IT'S TIME TO LEGALIZE IT IN NC: A little more than 30 years ago I was working for a Los Angeles newspaper and went to police headquarters to apply for a press pass. The application included one of those ‘check the box’ questions, asking if I had ever been arrested for anything more serious than a traffic violation. In fact, I had been arrested years before for felony drug trafficking, a crime I was not guilty of (I have never sold drugs). Charges had been dropped, but I had been convicted of misdemeanor use of a controlled substance, marijuana. When I told the officer on duty about this, and whether I should check the box, he said not to bother, because “Nobody gives a ----.” I obviously have a personal interest in this issue, not just because smoking weed, like millions upon millions of Americans have done, has given me a criminal record. Restrictive marijuana laws have ruined the lives of thousands, particularly minorities, who are arrested for cannabis offenses nearly four times that of whites (there are nearly 700,000 cannabis-related arrests every year). How many people have been jailed for the non-violent crime of marijuana usage? We will never know, but one incarceration is one too many.

THE SUPREME COURT CHOOSES THE WRONG SIDE IN THE STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY: In Brnovich v. DNC, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the Court, validated a couple of challenged Arizona voting restrictions. More importantly, Alito’s opinion largely gutted section 2 of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since Chief Justice Roberts and his colleagues had thrown out the statute’s other major component, the section five preclearance requirement, in the notorious 2013 Shelby County case, what many regard as the most important civil rights law in American history has been left a mocking, hollow shell. At long last, Lyndon Johnson turns in his grave. Justice Elena Kagan issued her most passionate dissent since the North Carolina-based Rucho case. She noted the Court had abused its authority “at a perilous moment for the Nation’s commitment to equal citizenship.” She explicitly cited the efforts of the North Carolina Legislature, “the day after Shelby, in eliminating same-day registration, forbidding out-of-precinct voting, reducing early voting, including soul-to-the polls Sundays” as examples of the now wide-spread assault on the right to vote. Kagan concluded: “The Voting Rights Act is an extraordinary law. Rarely has a statute required so much sacrifice to ensure its passage. Never has a statute done more to advance the nation’s highest ideals. And few laws are more vital in the current moment. Yet in the last decade, this Court has treated no statute worse.” Hat-tip to the N&O for continuing to publish Gene Nichol's work. Republicans tried desperately to shut him up, but that never really works, does it?

HOW THE WHITE PRESS WROTE OFF BLACK AMERICA: Newspapers that championed white supremacy throughout the pre-civil rights South paved the way for lynching by declaring African Americans nonpersons. They embraced the language once used at slave auctions by denying Black citizens the courtesy titles Mr. and Mrs. and referring to them in news stories as “the negro,” “the negress” or “the nigger.” They depicted Black men as congenital rapists, setting the stage for them to be hanged, shot or burned alive in public squares all over the former Confederacy. These newspapers entered their bloodiest incarnations during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, inciting hellish episodes of violence during which white mobs murdered at will while sometimes destroying entire Black communities. Since the early 2000s, historically white newspapers in Alabama, California, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and North Carolina have apologized with varying degrees of candor for the roles they played in this history. When read end to end, these statements of confession attest to blatantly racist news coverage over a more than century-long period that encompasses the collapse of Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, the two world wars, the civil rights movement, the urban riots of the 1960s, the Vietnam era and beyond. The Raleigh News & Observer in North Carolina has admitted to engineering a landmark episode of racial terrorism — the 1898 white supremacist coup that overthrew the government of the majority-Black city of Wilmington. The Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama, once the voice of the Confederacy, acknowledges being complicit in racial terrorism through the 1950s. The Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky could well have spoken for hundreds of newspapers when it confessed that it had “neglected” to cover the civil rights movement at a time when that movement was changing the face of the country. The apology movement is historically resonant on several counts. It offers a timely validation of the besieged academic discipline known as critical race theory — by showing that what news organizations once presented as “fair” and “objective” journalism was in fact freighted with the racist stereotypes that had been deployed to justify slavery.

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES JUST PROVED THE CORRECTNESS OF CRITICAL RACE THEORY: Nikole Hannah-Jones, and the epic failure of the University of North Carolina to recruit the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to its faculty, just proved the correctness of critical race theory. The controversial legal doctrine has been vilified by conservatives but, as this episode illustrates, it also challenges those liberals who worship at the altar of “diversity.” According to some leading critical race theorists, integration — the traditional progressive route to racial justice — does not actually work for minorities. In this view, white supremacy is so embedded in most American institutions that people of color will never be accepted as equals — even when they are formally granted entry. The doctrine was first articulated during the 1980s as a way of understanding why, decades after the civil rights movement, African Americans still experienced discrimination in virtually every aspect of their lives. Columbia University law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “critical race theory,” has argued that the law can often be interpreted in a way that benefits the ruling class, no matter what the law actually says. Or, as Hannah-Jones wrote this week, “We have all seen that you can do everything to make yourself undeniable, and those in power can change the rules and attempt to deny you anyway.” In a classic article published in 1976, Harvard professor Derrick Bell argued that during the Jim Crow era, Black students might have been better off if they had sought more resources for segregated schools rather than access to White schools. Bell’s premise was that actual integration would never happen, even if it were legally mandated, because of “massive white hostility.” Critical race theorists described the heavy toll of desegregation efforts, including placing Blacks in hostile environments, in a way that resonates with Hannah-Jones’s explanation for her decision: “At some point when you have proven yourself and fought your way into institutions that were not built for you . . . you have to decide that you are done forcing yourself in.” I have always believed that integration was critical in improving race relations. But I may have been wrong.


THOMAS STRINI: WHY ARE WE SO UNWILLING TO TAKE SIMPLE STEPS? Despite the lifting of mask mandates, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that unvaccinated people continue to wear masks and observe social distancing. Since only 30% of Rowan County residents are fully vaccinated, that means at least two out of every three people should still be wearing masks. However, when I go to a grocery, drug or home improvement store, almost no one is masked. I suspect those few who have, like me, been fully vaccinated and are simply exercising an abundance of caution in the face of the continuing pandemic. Last week, nearly 1,600 Americans died of COVID-19. Over a one month period, that is over twice the number killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when Americans were willing to do anything to stop further terrorist attacks. Why, then, are we so unwilling to take the simple steps of masking and social distancing to stop COVID from continuing to take lives?

KEITH TOWNSEND: BEING VACCINATED IS AN ACT OF COMPASSION: NBC News reported on June 3rd that the United States had surpassed the grim milestone of 600,000 COVID-19 deaths. While it may be statistically insignificant amidst such massive numbers, I think it is worth noting that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 330 American children had tragically died of the disease as of June 10. Thirty-seven of these children were under the age of five. This pandemic is now the third deadliest event in American history. It is estimated that over 700,000 Americans died during the Civil War and 650,000 perished during the flu epidemic of 1918. Unfortunately the current pandemic is far from over. Worldwide, COVID-19 has already claimed more lives this year than in all of 2020. While many Americans refuse to be vaccinated and often rage on social media over threats to their personal freedom, much of the world is without access to vaccinations and can only dream of being so fortunate. Meanwhile, as the crisis grows in the impoverished nations of the world, new variants are being spawned, which may possibly be even more contagious and deadly than those which we have already experienced. Surely more will follow if left unchecked. The Delta variant, which has caused horrific outbreaks of sickness and death in India, is now here in North Carolina. Being vaccinated is not just an act of personal protection, but it is the way to end this period of pain and grief that we have all been living through. In fact, it is an act of compassion and love.

DWIGHT CHRISTENBURY: PLAGIARISM IS ONLY PART OF SOUTHERN BAPTIST PROBLEMS: Re “Pastor’s Borrowed Words Expose Shortcut in the Preaching Life” (front page, July 7): I have been a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for 12 years. As associate pastor of a congregation in North Carolina, I write and deliver sermons a couple of times a month. I’d like to think that I’m a pretty decent preacher, but who knows? In any case, the congregation I serve hasn’t got rid of me yet. While in theory I do the same work as J.D. Greear and his successor as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Ed Litton, who is at the center of the controversy, I have to confess that the ethos and culture of the preaching profession described in their Christian megachurch world is utterly foreign to anything I’ve experienced. Ghostwriting? Research consultants? “Eight-man” preaching teams? Forty-five-minute sermons? (Not to mention the indefensible refusal of the Southern Baptist Convention and denominations of similar ideology to permit women to preach.) Sounds as if the problem may not be plagiarism so much as the turning of Christian worship and preaching into a cult of (male) personality.

Sorry about the slim (and male) pickings in the letters, for some reason the N&O and Char-O have stopped publishing new ones since 7-2. Hopefully it's just a glitch and not a permanent move.



Zen and the art of self repair

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.

To me, this koan is a warning of sorts, to not set your expectations too high. While learning and growing (wiser) does give you tools to better navigate life's challenges, that state of being doesn't magically make challenges go away. In fact, the challenges can become even greater. After 15-20 years of school and residency, trauma surgeons still lose patients on the operating table, even after a picture-perfect procedure. "You can't save them all" is small comfort when that happens.

If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.

This is a really hard one to recognize and correct, because our brain tends to process issues based on the importance we have given them, and time (in the linear sense) plays a much smaller role in that process. You have to force the present (the now) into the forefront of your thoughts, no matter how mundane your surroundings or activities are. This is important because:

If we knew that tonight we were going to go blind, we would take a long, last real look at every blade of grass, every cloud formation, every speck of dust, every rainbow, raindrop-everything.

I consider myself an art lover, if not an artist. My favorites are the Impressionists, and I've been lucky enough to view (in-person) literally thousands of their creations. But even those pale in comparison to our natural world. The beauty, complexity, and abundant variation of flora just a few steps away is the best way of jerking your mind into the present. It's a feast of visual stimuli, and your brain will naturally need to process it.

That's enough for now, I'm going for a walk in the woods...


I needed this.