“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee
It was about a week ago that Houston Chronicle Columnist Bill King stepped up and dedicated his column to an African-American public tired of the wicked stereotypes that have dogged us for hundreds of years since slavery.
Entitled, “Lesson Learned: When words get in the way”, King said the incident over writing a column and using a watermelons in an anecdote and the fallout from it gave him a “better grasp” and understanding of sensitivity from a that column that initially was aimed at the Houston police chief and his department.
In his own words, King wrote, “The response I received was something I never would have contemplated in a million years. The chief complained to my editor that the column was a racist slap directed at him personally. The basis of his allegation was that I had used as a lead-in to the story an account I first heard in business school 40 years ago about a vendor buying watermelons for more than he was selling them. As the tale goes, the vendor concluded that to make more money, he would need a bigger truck.”
Whatever the intent, right is right and wrong is wrong and it was not “interpreted as a racial slap”, it is racist and offensive. I don’t understand given the suffering in history of Black people have had to endure at the hands of Whites in America that King would think that his use of “watermelons” and the Houston Chronicle’s acceptance of its use would ever be acceptable a Chief McClelland, Black people or The African-American News&Issues -the only Black Press newspaper willing to stand up and challenge King and the Houston Chronicle on that issue and any other issue affecting our community without Fear or Favor.
King notes again, Candidly, the connection between the business school story and the racially charged use of watermelons never crossed my mind. Nor did it raise concerns from a number of editors and writers who read the column before publication … Nonetheless, it is true that watermelons have been used as a symbol to stereotype, insult and demean African-Americans. And I truly regret if the chief or anyone else interpreted my retelling of this story in this context because that certainly was not my intent … Anyone who knows me and my involvement in this community and the way I have run the businesses in which I have been involved knows I would never intentionally make a derogatory racial remark or reference.
The making and use of such analogies and anecdotes and then doing an “Amos and Andy” dance around the truth does not change truth. It’s wrong, offensive and unacceptable.
Well, no one is perfect, but least Bill King was man enough to step up and admit in writing his shortcomings and lack of knowledge and sensitivity to African-Americans and to that Publisher Roy Douglas Malonson said.
“This publisher applauds Mr. King for analyzing the situation and stepping up,” Malonson said. “A lot of people still don’t get it when it comes to Black history and the Black experience.”
King added in his column, But the incident is a powerful illustration of how we all come to the civic discourse with our own history and experiences. It is a reminder that we all need to be more sensitive, not just to what we intend to say, but also how others may hear and interpret what we say. I certainly intend to do so.
The downside to this incident is that the Houston Chronicle missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate in its editorial department and news department that it has a solid understanding and deep respect for Black people and African-American history, culture and social mores.
Bill King can only speak for himself.
It is the Houston Chronicle newspaper that needs more cultural exposure and sensitivity training.