Sometimes, forgiving and moving forward is the bravest, strongest, most constructive thing a person or organization can do.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy.
But that’s exactly what the Surry NAACP has done with Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe — forgiven him for some racially insensitive comments he made in a Jan. 5 Washington Post story on Mount Airy.
Despite calls from some within its own ranks to demand Rowe step down, the NAACP’s leadership has astutely recognized a few things that have transpired or become public knowledge since Rowe’s comments to the Post were published.
First, Rowe has apologized and explained how he made those comments, never once shifting blame to anyone else. He’s taken ownership of the words, given a heartfelt and honest apology, and expressed his desire to move on and learn from this, to become a better person and mayor.
Second, Rowe is no racist. He’s an honest businessman, a hard-working person who simply wants to serve his community. Could some of this thoughts and attitudes be tinged by prejudices he’s absorbed over the course of his life? Sure, but the same can be said about everyone. We all have certain prejudices — intentional or not — we’ve accumulated over the years.
Third, this is an opportunity for the community to grow, for the hard questions of racial equality to be examined, locally, in a way they never have before. Mount Airy is just like any other community when it comes to race relations — a mixture of folks live here, with attitudes that run the gamut from open and progressive to flat-out bigoted and racist. Most folks lie somewhere between those extremes, often without even realizing some of their attitudes or words could be offensive to other racial groups.
Oftentimes, when a public official or public figure makes some racially insensitive remarks like this, he or she is railroaded out of town. Demands for their resignation are often prevalent if the person is an elected official, while equally stringent calls for a person to be fired sound off if they are employed in a public position.
Such action tends to only inflame more hatred, with folks on both sides of an issue simply entrenching themselves deeper in their beliefs, less likely to talk with the other side or consider another set of ideas.
That’s why we are encouraged by the wisdom and restraint shown by the local NAACP. Instead of such knee-jerk, emotional reactions, the group’s leadership has expressed a desire for this to become an opportunity for good for the community, perhaps for dialogue that makes long-term, true change in race relations locally.
Mayor Rowe and the Surry County NAACP, together, are now in a unique position to positively and effectively find ways to address the racial divide that exists in our community.
At the very least they are showing how to overcome differences and put aside mistakes in a gracious, positive manner good for all involved. At the most, perhaps, some set of activities or workshops or public efforts can come from this to help the people of this community honestly deal with the racial issues that have lingered for generations.
We’re not going to see the end of racism and bigotry, but perhaps there’s a way to open a few eyes and get just a few people making permanent change, even if only in a few small ways.