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Flowers: Howard County community needs to address ‘growing cancer’ of racism | COMMENTARY

Over the past six years alone, the Howard County branch of the NAACP has been alerted about numerous race-based incidents and cyberbullying events.

One included a white girl who darkened her face and said she wanted to kill a n-word, according to the NAACP. On social media there was a separate occurrence that involved a Mt. Hebron High School student disparaging the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln and saying that African Americans were an inferior race. There was also the case of a teacher being excused for instructing students to write a “slave song.”

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On the other side of town, four students vandalized Glenelg High School by spray-painting racial epithets meant for their African American principal, as well as Jewish and LGBTQ students. The NAACP caseload also includes an elementary student referring to an African American woman as a “Black b----.” And then there was the sickening video of a lunchroom staffer assaulting an African American female student by dragging her across the length of the lunchroom floor and forcibly placing her into her seat. The school redistricting period of 2019 also inspired a legion of racist comments and disruptions.

Viewed independently, each and every one of these acts are reprehensible. Collectively, these unchecked acts of hate and racism create an atmosphere of division and hostility. When there is a failure to swiftly condemn and take appropriate corrective actions, confusion and pain manifest.

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It is easy to say such trauma can be corrected with “restorative justice practice,” a conversation and a slap on the wrist, but clearly it can’t. There was a recent act of vandalism at Glenwood Middle School in Western Howard County where an individual used white spray paint to cover the word “Black” in the slogan “Black Lives Matter” on a school sign. It was an unsettling welcome to students just returning to school after a year.

Beyond the students and staff, we can add actions to that list that include vandalism at the Howard County Public School System headquarters. This act is important because it happened on Jan. 6, the same day as the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The recent arrest of the former Laurel police chief who allegedly targeted his own neighbors who disagreed with his views on something as simple as transferring students to other schools is an example of how out of control things have gotten.

Clearly, we are dealing with a problem that surpasses Howard County youth. It identifies a growing cancer in the Howard County community.

What residents should demand is for government officials to create a structure that can end this right away. All infractions, large or small, should be confronted and itemized because when they are unchecked, they allow hate to fester and grow. The actions are bad enough, but the greater insult is that the leadership we have elected to serve and protect us — and most importantly our children — stands to the side and talks about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion while doing nothing to empower the community toward a different way to embrace understanding and mutual respect. Instead, there is delay and hope that the issues magically disappear or are forgotten.

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Enough is enough.

While we expect a lot from our leaders, residents have a responsibility as well. Our goal is to be facilitators of understanding of cultures and bridges for open interactions that heal our way to mutual respect in community. Basically, we should play an opposite role of those mavens that sit at the heart of white supremacy. Our job is to balance the support for new ideas and shared resources.

Our slogans, speak-your-mind meetups and talk of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion are limited without action — action that includes mandating lessons on the history of white supremacy and its negative effect on this country. This should happen in public schools, in the community and certainly in Howard County government. An understanding of the damage caused by white supremacy will inspire the value of “love your neighbor as yourself” and a new spirit of uplift and understanding that was once the spirit of Columbia. Otherwise, the hateful acts and cyber-related microaggressions that we sweep under the rug will continue and those actions will be the voices of Howard County.

The writer is president of the Howard County branch of the NAACP.

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