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Open Door Policy - June 22, 2015

It is Time for a Real Discussion on Racism

I have struggled with the right words to express my feelings over the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.  This tragedy has been heavily publicized and politicized over the past week and my frustration has grown stronger each day. I knew the pastor who was gunned down, a good man who not only represented his congregation, but also served his legislative district as a senator. I am sure this is why this tragedy has hit me so deeply. I cannot claim we were friends as I had only met him one time at the South Carolina State House.  I remember being a little jealous that someone younger than me was already serving his people as a legislator and I was impressed with his abilities. I also recognized that he was a man of God and believed his actions would improve the world around him. 

I am angry that people are looking to blame the same old political issues rather than address the root of the problem.  Those supporting gun control were quick to jump on that issue.  The gun in question was bought legally by the father of the murderer.  Do not question the fact he owned a gun legally, but rather why his own father would buy him a weapon when he displayed such overt hatred publicly towards people.  

Mental illness has also been thrown about far too often in this discussion.  It is obvious he is deranged, but there is no question this was premeditated from his internet postings.  Do those claiming he is mentally ill believe this to be the case because he murdered nine people, or because of his own words and actions which led him to commit this tragedy?  Where will these people draw the line at what is “mental illness” versus “acceptable free speech” in this discussion? If it is carrying out an action tied to their hate-filled rhetoric, then I will pray for them because it will take more than what I am capable of doing or saying to open their eyes that the words and beliefs of these racists too often spark these tragedies.

Racism is the root of this incident.  Racism is the cause of this problem we face as a nation. Racism is the topic we need to discuss and work to eliminate through better understanding of each other. 

In 2008, when candidate Barack Obama was running, I received two phone calls during that election period that remain in my mind to this day.  These two people were unhappy with the choice of the voters in our party’s nominee and both questioned “what were we going to do to stop this n****r from getting elected” as President.  I was shocked by the conversations and fumbled around not knowing what to say the first call, and handled the second call no better.  I quickly ended the conversations and sat there with a sickened feeling both times.  I remember wondering how people could simply condemn a person based solely on the color of their skin and dismissed it based on their generation being different than mine and it being a part of the time period in which they grew up.

My age group did not grow up with segregated bathrooms or water fountains. Honestly, growing up in a small, rural Oklahoma town, my limited association with black people was watching Bill Cosby on television. It was not until high school and college that I had my first experiences with people who did not “look like me” and get to learn that there was very little difference in us.  Later, as a legislator and a statewide candidate, I had the pleasure of attending many events and learned more about how people are truly facing similar problems, experiencing many of the same frustrations and trying to make a better world for their children and grandchildren, no matter what their race might be.

The fact this act was committed by a 21 year old only makes me question if our society is truly changing or if we are seeing these views just buried deeper. We can no longer afford to ignore the issue at hand.  Until we are willing to maturely discuss these societal problems and help overcome racism, we will not see the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that so many of us want in our civilization.  Until we can truly move our society down the path to a point when we look past skin color and to the belief all men and women are created equal, we will not see the last of the Dylann Roof’s lurking in the shadows waiting to strike at the next congregation.


Joe Dorman is a former state representative who served House District 65 in Oklahoma.  He was the 2014 Democratic Nominee for Governor of Oklahoma. He serves as the Community Development Director in Oklahoma for Heart Mobile.