Bishop Joey Johnson and Your Favorite Columnist sat down recently to talk about the sorry state of race relations in 2017.
The black baby boomer and the white baby boomer both believe the racial divide is as wide as it has been in their lifetimes.
Johnson is among the most influential preachers in the region, drawing 800 Sunday worshippers to his House of the Lord in West Akron.
Our hourlong conversation has been heavily edited, but I believe it retains the high points.
About midway through our talk, Johnson revealed that he has arranged for people in the black community to use police simulators to illustrate how tough it is for officers to make split-second decisions with lives on the line ó theirs and the suspectís.
The participants role-play being cops. They are shown videos of various situations unfolding and ó as in real life ó must make almost instantaneous judgement calls.
The action on the screen changes based on what you say and do. If you shoot at somebody, the machine will tell you how fast you reacted, how accurately you shot and whether your actions were appropriate.
I was invited to try my hand at a simulator many years ago ó and failed miserably in two of the scenarios.
In one, I stood idly by while my partner was stabbed to death.
Later, I poured two 9 mm slugs into an old, slow woman who was approaching with a knife. I quite likely could have disarmed her easily without firing a shot ó much less two.
Johnson: I said, ďLetís see what the police have to go through.Ē
Iím on both sides, so people get angry with me. ďWell, are you for us, the black people?Ē Iím for truth! Iím for whatís right for everybody.
Police are in a very difficult situation in our country, and I donít think all police are bad or racist. Having simulators helps people get a different perspective. All of a sudden, theyíre saying, ďWell, I wasnít thinking it was like that.Ē It shows itís not that easy.
That kind of viewpoint is often just not dealt with because thereís no middle ground. We need to create a middle ground.
Dyer: Agree completely.
I hesitate to even utter the word ďTrump,Ē because any time I write anything about him people on both sides read things into it and go ballistic. But going back to our dust-up in January, are you willing to say that most people who voted for him are not racist and sexist but just wanted the biggest possible Washington shake-up?
Johnson: I think so. Iím not a conspiracist that all whites are racists.
When I define racism, I define it differently than other people. The personal discrimination, personal prejudice, those are personal things. I define racism on a corporate level, an institutional oppression of people.
I donít think most whites are racist personally. Thatís not their attitude. Thatís not their identity. But they are caught in a system which impacts you that way.
I look at racism as a powerful river that flows downstream. It picks whites up and it carries them along. You donít have to want to go.
Most people are not overt, out-and-out racist. Theyíre not KKK. They just canít see the impact of their racism. If you donít have to face it, thereís no reason to think about it or for it to come up.
Dyer: Actually, Iíve always said that if thereís a race problem, itís my problem, too, because it impacts my life.
Johnson: I like your attitude. Thatís worth talking about. You and I can clear some air.
Not every black person is walking around blaming whites for where we are. Itís more of an institutional problem. Not just with blacks, but American Indians, Chinese, the Japanese during World War II. America as an institution does not want to face those issues nor deal with them.
We have to figure out how we can do it, how we can do it without offending everybody, how we can bring people together. Itís a tough agenda.
Dyer: My theory is that the people who tend to be the most prejudiced have had very little exposure to people who arenít like them.
Johnson: Thatís a great part of it. One of the stats that goes along with that is weíre as segregated as weíve ever been. People are unaware of it because itís not necessarily ďthe ghetto,Ē but black people still live in a particular section of town and whites live in a particular section ó for many reasons.
Dyer: Do you think one reason is that many blacks prefer to live with other blacks?
Johnson: Thatís one reason. Thereís a powerful book called The Color of Wealth [which argues that] wealth is determined by the ownership of a home. If you donít own a home, you canít accumulate wealth.
One of the things people never give any thought to is that the average white person, if they have any history, may have some resources that have been left by parents or grandparents. [Many blacks] donít have that. Thereís nothing left for you. Youíre still trying to make it out of the hole.
And when you move out of the area, you face racism ó ďYou need to stay with your people.Ē
Dyer: Well, Iíve lived in Copley Township for 30 years. The schools are 25 percent minority, and I have no sense whatsoever that any of the white folks Iíve known, even remotely, resented the fact that there were a lot of minorities. I was happy about it. I wanted my kids to interact with people who werenít like them. So I donít agree that people in the suburbs are resistant.
Johnson: There are certain enclaves ≠where you move in and people paint stuff on your house and do things. I donít view Copley that way. So itís not universal, but it can be very powerful.
The other side of that coin is, both of my kids went to Copley High School. My daughter, no problem. My son, problem. I donít think it was because of Copley High School. I think it was because of him.
Again, the thing I am very concerned about is the narrative. The narrative ends up being played, and people pick it up whether itís theirs or not. My son picked that up: ďIím being discriminated against.Ē
[Johnsonís son did well on standardized tests but didnít apply himself and got ordinary grades. One year, he came to his father and announced he was going to dive into his schoolwork and study hard. The first grading period, he came home with four Aís and a B.]
Iím saying, ďWow! Iím so proud of you!Ē
He says, ďNo, Iím not going to ever do that again.Ē
What? ďI had 91 percent and the teacher discriminated against me. She wouldnít give me an A.Ē
I said, ďYou didnít earn an A! Thatís not discrimination. You didnít earn it!Ē
He said, ďYou canít get ahead in this world, and white people ó Ē I said, ďWhoa! This has nothing to do with white people. This has to do with what you earned.Ē
I think people pick up the narrative that plays in our country without even understanding it, deciphering it.
The narrative Iím concerned about now in our nation is that ďI can just say anything to people, I can do anything I want to do because itís now open season.Ē
That narrative we want to attack.
I work with the city of Akron and the police. The narrative of what happened in Ferguson is not what is happening in Akron. But in the absence of an Akron narrative, Ferguson will be the one we will play.
I think the mayor is attempting to write a local narrative that says, ďThis is Akron. This is what we stand for. We are not going to discriminate, regardless of what anybody else is doing.Ē
I want the police to drive their narrative with community policing. Start getting articles on how you go to basketball games, how you help young people. But the only thing getting any press is when someone gets shot.
Dyer: Thatís mostly just the definition of news. If something unusual doesnít happen, itís not news.
Johnson: I agree. But I think we can change news. Youíve got to tell your own story, by having events in the neighborhood ó however you want to tell it.
Iíve known some police who are wonderful people. I also know a couple that have issues. But thatís OK. Thatís life.
The essential thing is that we not allow this divide that is happening in our country, that we work toward the good of all people.
Dyer: Amen, Bishop.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.