A conversation about racism opened my eyes The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

A conversation about racism opened my eyes

A conversation about racism opened my eyes

By David Leibowitz
Tribune Columnist

As our days fill with talk of race, you wonder about the honesty of it all.

Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, so many shades of skin color, everyone screaming, posturing, but is anyone truly capable of telling hard truths?

You crave hearing someone plainly speak their mind without fear. So, you call the Reverend Jarrett Maupin.

To label Maupin a controversial figure is to do him little justice.

Loathed by many, called out by Blacks and whites alike, Maupin nonetheless has been a fixture in Arizona for more than 15 years. Say what you want about him – and I have – but the Reverend rarely holds his tongue for fear of bruising feelings on matters of race.

So, you ask him, point blank, what percentage of whites does he believe are racists?

“If I just had to put a number on it, I’d say about 10 percent have some kind of prejudice because of their upbringing or their estrangement from minorities, any number of factors,” Maupin begins. “Now if you get deep in the weeds of race relations, I would say maybe 40 percent of whites have what you might call subconscious bias.”

This would be the “you people” crowd, Maupin explains: Whites who mean no offense, but blurt out lines like “You people have really good soul food.”

As he puts it: “They don’t mean anything by it but a compliment, but it’s interpreted the wrong way. That doesn’t bother me actually. I get a smile out of it.”

The Reverend’s summation: “The vast majority of white people are not racist.”

Which raises a second question, equally blunt: What percentage of Blacks does he believe are prejudiced?

“Now you’re asking me a tough ass question,” Maupin laughs. “I’ll tell you the honest to God truth. I think 50 percent of Blacks have some prejudice against whites because of things they’ve experienced or heard firsthand that have sort of jaded them. They’ve come across that one in 10 white men or one in 10 white women and they’ve painted with a broad brush.”

Considered from the perspective of statistics, Maupin’s response feels breathtaking. Of late, you have heard frequently that racism is a public health crisis, an affliction with all the virulence of COVID-19.

To date, not even one percent of Americans have tested positive for coronavirus; Rev. Maupin has just pegged the infectiousness of discrimination at a rate of one in two.

You wonder which cohort you’re in, and your loved ones, friends, colleagues?

More to the point, you wonder if America has passed the point where a cure is possible, because unlike a virus, racism does not seem to fade due to herd immunity, at least not if the 155 years since Emancipation tell the tale.

But then Rev. Maupin preaches a little. He speaks about his grandmother, the great Opal Ellis, and the late Lincoln Ragsdale, Arizona civil rights icons, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

He talks about South Africa’s recovery from apartheid and America’s need for a similar formal reckoning. He talks about his belief that fighting racism in 2020 is less about making new laws and more about changing minds. He shrugs off ideas like reparations or pumping endless tax dollars into public programs.

“Brother Leibowitz, we cannot spend our way out of emotional discord,” says Maupin. “I wish I had a better answer. I know I probably sound like I don’t have one.”

Not at all, my friend. You sound like a man struggling with something hard. And you sound like someone open to baring your soul. Maybe that is the best two men from opposite worlds can do.

And maybe – you pray – that is truly something. 

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