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My dear friend Gospel Gal (a.k.a. LaTonya Taylor) called my attention to a report in today’s Chicago Tribune about an effort to achieve racial reconciliation in the small town of Paris, Texas. Paris, according to the Trib, is a town that has been fraught with racial tension for years–most notably was an incident that made national headlines involving a black teenager who was sentenced to seven years in a youth prison for a minor infraction, while a white teenager who committed a more serious crime a few months earlier only received a slap on the wrist and probation.

At a four-hour meeting between white and black residents of the town on Thursday night, conciliation specialists from the U.S. Justice Department moderated a heated discussion that soon escalated into angry shouting and obstinate stares.

One quote that hit me hard came from the white judge who sentenced that black teenager to that seemingly excessive punishment:

“I think the black community in this town is suffering a great deal from poverty, broken homes, drugs,” Superville said. “Because a larger percentage of the black population is caught up in that, in their anguish they are perceiving they are the victims of discrimination. But white people are not the enemy. Poverty, illiteracy, drugs, absentee fathers—that’s the enemy. That’s not racism. That’s the breakdown of a community.”

There’s a lot of truth in his words, but as this article reveals, there are many systemic issues related to the “race” problem. I wonder how some of you out there are struck by this judge’s comment. Indeed, oftentimes the racial divide is a matter of perception, not racism.

Anyone who has been engaged in the business of real-life reconciliation understands that there must be a clearing of the air, getting all the junk out on the table, before any real progress can be made. And it sounds like these residents of Paris, Texas, are off to a solid start in that regard. Let’s just pray that they’ll be able to persevere through the screaming, the stubbornness, and the bitterness forged by years of unacknowledged pain and injustice. From the story:

“Every city should have a dialogue like this,” said Mayor Jesse James Freelen, whose town of 26,000 is 72 percent white and 22 percent black. “We didn’t like all the negative publicity about our town and we didn’t like how we got here. But if the end result is that our community grows together, then it will all have been worth it.”

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