Respectfully, Star Tribune readers of all ideological and political stripes deserve better than Katherine Kersten’s “Racial justice: The new religion?” (Opinion Exchange, July 25). Kersten’s piece sought to cast all who believe Black lives matter as self-righteous, unthinking dogmatists. In truth, it is Kersten (and the Star Tribune’s opinion editors) who could stand to be a bit more thoughtful. Plenty of compelling critiques have been written of some of the phenomena Kersten seems to dislike — Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility,” “woke capitalism,” “cancel culture.” Kersten’s piece isn’t among them. It was a muddled and incurious screed, put forth to comfort Kersten and those of her ilk who remain reflexively hostile to the very concept of “systemic racism” even in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
Incredibly, although Kersten herself makes a purely theoretical argument — proponents of racial justice are like 16th-century Puritans — she has the gall to tell us it is the proponents of racial justice who are scared of data and objective analysis.
Well, here’s some data: In Minneapolis, Black people make up 19% of the population yet are the subject of 66% of police uses of force. In Minnesota, 65% of white fourth-graders are reading proficient, compared to 31% of Black fourth-graders. In Minnesota, the median income of Black households is 48.8% that of white households.
These are just a few examples of what people are referring to when they talk about “systemic racism.” The Star Tribune should publish informed, diverse perspectives on the issue. But please: Do better than Katherine Kersten.
Eric Barstad, Minneapolis
• • •
Before I clicked on the headline “Racial justice: The new religion?”, I knew what the byline would be. Kersten’s white-makes-right diatribes are as predictable as they are inflammatory.
The Star Tribune publishes much better conservative commentary by D.J. Tice. I rarely agree with Tice, but his columns are thought-provoking. And his thoughts are clearly his own, rather than talking points from think tanks and political campaigns.
It’s time to give Kersten a rest. At the risk of giving her a talking point, how about finding some regular commentators who are Black, Indigenous or people of color?
Ben Weiss, St. Paul
• • •
In her commentary, Kersten attempts to draw a direct line from what she calls the “movement to eradicate ‘white privilege’ ” back to a Puritan-era tenet she identifies as “ ‘innate depravity’ — the doctrine that humans are inherently wicked as the result of the original sin.” To bolster her argument, she includes quotes from conservative Catholic commentators John Zmirak (“ ‘Woke’ is the new ‘saved’ ”) and Mary Eberstadt (“ ‘Bigot and hater’ are the new ‘witch and wizard’ ”).
I am surprised that as Kersten criticizes young people for “often knowing little history or religion” in her article, she seems ignorant that the Puritan-era belief she ties to “a secular faith” — that everyone is born sinful — is not solely Puritan but in fact at the root of much of Christendom. And that according to Christian doctrine, absolution is found in recognizing and confessing one’s sins followed by attempting to do better, although in Christian belief, Godlike perfection is not possible.
In attempting to “do better,” the vast majority of white adherents to Black Lives Matter and the “woke movement” Kersten describes are in actuality practicing Matthew 7:12, the Golden Rule, which states “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets,” although there is a realization that the perfection of this ideal may not be possible in this world.
Kersten’s recitation of affirmative action reforms of the last 60 years as proof of all white America has done to improve race relations in this country rings hollow, considering six decades is but a small fraction of the 400 years of white supremacy built into our institutions. Indeed, all the malaise she decries — toppling of the statues of American presidents and the increase of “Black-on-Black” violence — are attributable to weak support for quality public education and lack of opportunity in marginalized communities, especially hard-hit by the current pandemic.
Kersten should recognize the Golden Rule. I just wonder how she wishes she would have others do to her.
Michael Riddle, Coon Rapids
Nuanced, contradictory, fixable
Two people painted over portions of a “Black Lives Matter” mural on a California street. Supporters of the mural, along with many public officials, demanded that this couple be brought to justice. Yet these same groups offered little apparent objection following the desecration or destruction of statues of national anthem composer Francis Scott Key, former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Union General Ulysses S. Grant or President George Washington. Let’s acknowledge that contradiction.
Some supporters of indiscriminate destruction of statues wonder how anyone can attach importance to statues and monuments — after all, they’re just metal and stone. My response to that must echo their own: Why do they attach importance to destroying those metal and stone monuments if they’re so unimportant? Let’s acknowledge the symbolism for both sides.
Regarding police reform, we must learn from the past and do a better job in law enforcement, but not just because of the relatively modest numbers of cops killing unarmed Black people. According to the Washington Post, that total was 14 for 2019. Data from Statista shows that the number of Black people killed by cops, both armed and unarmed, was 235 for 2019. There are other measures relevant to determining a need for better policing. We should focus on those as well. And as we’re improving law enforcement, let’s work to find other even more significant causes of our cultural and racial tensions — they’re there. Let’s unite and get busy finding and fixing.
Steve Bakke, Edina
• • •
I recall Seamus Heaney, the Irish Nobel laureate, saying that when confusion and conflict rule the day, it’s a good time to hear from a poet.
This is such a time, and I think it good advice. So let’s hear from Heaney himself. In his verse adaptation of a Sophocles play titled “The Cure at Troy,” he has the following oft-quoted lines:
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
These words straddle the cavernous gap between optimism and despair. They acknowledge the persistence of evil in the human experience but refuse cynicism about it. One application for Heaney was the end of violence in Northern Ireland through negotiation between centuries-old enemies. It wasn’t theoretical for Heaney. He grew up a Catholic amid the violence and had friends and family members murdered. (See his poem “The Strand at Lough Beg.”) And he admits to not knowing how long this will last.
In our present time of confusion and conflict, we face a question: Is now a time when “hope and history” might “rhyme”?
I am not sure it is. There is a persistent streak of foolishness from all corners in our collective reactions to the killing of George Floyd. And yet there is also wisdom and hope. I am not one of those who thinks nothing has changed for Black Americans in the last 60 years. But I do believe not nearly enough has changed. It feels to me like the stage is set for a more quantum rather than incremental change. Which will depend, of course, on our collective actions rather than our collective words.
This poet has increased my hope. I’m pulling for a rhyme.
Daniel Taylor, St. Paul
We want to hear from you. Send us your thoughts here.