INDIANAPOLIS – The two conversations took place at the same time.
Together, they showed how much injustice can cost us and how much work we still must do here in Indiana.
The first conversation was something of a squabble.
Indiana Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis – who is also the Republican candidate for mayor of Indianapolis – said he planned to march in the Indy Pride Parade. The organizers of the parade – which celebrates LGBTQ members of the community – said Merritt wouldn’t be welcome.
There was some back and forth.
Merritt said he planned to march not as a candidate for mayor, but as a private citizen. The parade’s organizers, perhaps mindful that excluding someone from an event aimed at promoting inclusion wasn’t the wisest course, said anyone who paid the $5 fee was entitled to march.
While Merritt and the Indy Pride organizers jousted, I was on the air with Doneisha Posey of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission and Tamara Harris of the Central Indiana Community Foundation.
Posey, Harris and I talked about an upcoming Civil Rights Commission conference. One of the themes for the conference will be diversity and inclusion.
Harris said something that stuck with me.
We were talking about the relationship between poverty and race. She said that African American families were far more likely to be poor than their Caucasian fellow citizens.
But that isn’t what made her comments so poignant.
She said that research now showed that Indianapolis and Indiana were among the least economically mobile places in America. Anyone who is born poor here or becomes poor here has a great chance of remaining poor.
So much for the American Dream.
Because many of the barriers that have kept people of color in poverty are institutional – discriminatory hiring practices, predatory lending, generations of inferior schooling and services etc. – that means that injustice has assumed a powerful inertia.
The wrongs done decades, generations, even centuries ago have a way of living on and damaging human beings by the thousands or even millions as they do.
That is, unless there are serious attempts to atone for the injustice.
Harris said that is why the Central Indiana Community Foundation has decided to make removing obstacles to inclusion the organization’s primary focus. She said Indianapolis and Indiana cannot work well when so many people are prevented from taking their turns in the dance of life.
Which brings us back to the Indy Pride Parade and Jim Merritt.
I’ve known Merritt for years. He’s a good guy, decent, conscientious and caring. I don’t think he ever would consciously seek to harm anyone.
But the brutal fact is that he was on the wrong side of the debate over equal rights for LGBTQ citizens. He voted to impose a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He voted in favor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which aimed to allow Hoosiers to discriminate against other Hoosiers because of their sexual orientation.
The cliché is to say that folks such as Merritt were on the wrong side of history.
But it’s really more than that.
They were on the wrong side of decency.
Merritt at some level seems to grasp that. He has said that, while he has to “own” all his votes, he wants to march to show how his views have progressed. He said he wants to march to show how Indianapolis can become a more inclusive city.
That’s a step, but not nearly a big enough one.
The truth is that the organizers of the Pride Parade have a right to feel aggrieved. Because of votes like Merritt’s their lives and their lives’ possibilities have been stunted for years. For generations. For centuries.
Saying one’s views have evolved doesn’t begin to address that.
Saying “I was wrong – in fact, I did you wrong – and I apologize” comes much closer to the mark.
That is both a statement of atonement and a statement upon which a new city can be built.
Because Tamara Harris is right.
It’s not just the wrong we ourselves do that wreaks havoc in this world.
It is also the injustice we inherit and abide that carves wounds in a community and all who inhabit it.