Dear Mr. Smith, During my considerable years on this earth, I have always felt a deep empathy for people of color. The social organization I joined in college was a multi-racial group. We actually conducted the first sit-in that I know of, before the sit-ins of the ’60s. Three of my black friends and I (the lone white person in the group) went to a campus restaurant and claimed a table. We were not denied service directly. We were ignored. The year was 1953.

I lived through the ’60s and wept for many who were killed and abused and subjected to violence.

Since then, I have seen improvements in the social structure of America. I was thrilled with the presidency of Barack Obama. I thought we had largely conquered racism.


I was wrong.

I see now that it is alive and well in America’s heartland. My question to you is, what can I do to further the cause? Please be specific in your answer. I genuinely do not know what to do.

Sincerely, Pat Balvanz, Dubuque, Iowa

Dear Ms. Balvanz, Thank you so much for your past service to the cause, your recognition that we’re still a nation divided, but more importantly, your desire to recommit your voice once again.

What most people don’t realize is that racism is not so different than cancer. While there is treatment for all forms of cancer, it is possible for some to be totally cured from it after going through a regimen of treatments. Even still, it requires you to be continually monitored to ensure that the cancer has not returned. For some, it never returns, but for others, it does.

In our American society, there were three cycles of treatment to address racial intolerance. The first was the recognition that slavery was a barbarous, horrific and abominable practice and was condemned in the town square by white abolitionists speaking as if they were the appointed town crier, and in other public and private gatherings in the North. Over time, blacks were recruited into the ranks of abolitionism, as the white abolitionist realized that “black voices were needed” alongside that of the “white voices.” It was because of these abolitionists who were condemning the immorality of slavery, the Christian principles and values of northerners were willing to engage in Civil War to bring slavery to a just end. This was the first treatment in curing the American cancer.

The second cycle of treatment didn’t come until the peaceful civil protests and violence against protesters, both standing their ground until a vast number of white Americans added their voices in the demand for equal treatment under the law.

The third cycle of treatment came resulting in the promulgation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Many had assumed that the laws granting and protecting the civil and voting rights of black Americans were the beginning of the end of racism in America. But soon thereafter it became apparent that there was a need for more intervention in the areas of housing, education and a host of other areas. The one thing that government could not do was to snap out racial intolerance and indifference from the hearts of those who are determined to see the black race as inferior or deserving of equal treatment under the law.

Some gird themselves with patriotic symbols and relics of the past, and even more extreme elements embrace a form of religious demagoguery that provides a safe haven to racist and prejudicial belief, and serves as a foundation for those who preach a rebranded version of racism that touts racial supremacy. Over the past few years, there has been an attempt to bring these fringe elements out of the shadows, along with their neo brand of racism that teaches they are the chosen and rightful heirs of this great nation.

But I am a firm believer that even that form of thinking and belief can be changed, because racial intolerance and indifference is merely a learned trait, and we as individuals are able to resolve most of our inner conflicts when we seek guidance through our personal faith and relationship in God, and attempt to distance ourselves from those who seek to corrupt that relationship. I know that when I see my maker, no one but me will have to vouch for my life and my service to my community, and the world that I’ve left behind.

It seems clear to me that three cycles of treatment started us down a productive path, but the cancer returned, reemerging in a more modern and aggressive form of cancer that will require a new course of treatment. It has crept into our government institutions. That has created many of the problems white Americans are finally seeing up close with the experience social media provides.

As this article notes in the beginning, this journey began with the voices of white Americans shouting out in the town square, meeting in public and private spaces, and creating a pathway to freedom for those of my black brothers and sisters who found the courage to run. We, black Americans, call for those same white voices to continue on and finish this journey as we attempt to administer the final dose and remove the cancer from our institutions. White Americans are the X factor in our journey, and the final treatment to heal our land from this cancer-like disease. You began this journey and have led us down this road, and it is now time for you to get us to the other side of it, because 12% of the American population cannot do it alone. It was white America that ended slavery, white America that aided black Americans in securing our civil and voting rights, and it will take white Americans to aid the black community in blotting out systemic racism.

In the letter from Ms. Balvanz, she has asked me what can she do to further the cause?

My response to her is the same response that I would provide for all. Ask your city, county and state and federal government leaders to advocate for and adopt measures calling for the end of systemic racism that results in patterns of discrimination, call for a change within law enforcement and the judicial system for fair and equal treatment of all. Ask your communities to establish laws that will allow for the establishment of balanced civilian oversight boards to promulgate progressive policies, procedures, guidelines, and the ability to monitor police departments’ performance to ensure compliance to those standards.

While these are but a few, the establishment of a grassroots movement within communities throughout the country should be formed in cities all across America to demand that progressive initiatives be adopted. For our older white brothers and sisters who supported our cause back in the ‘60s, reach out to other community voices and leaders within your community and find out what role you can play in advancing the message, but also talk to your children and grandchildren about standing up and speaking out against injustice. Don’t let it be said that your contributions toward the struggle began and ended 50 years ago, but rather that they continued until your last breath, as this will be your legacy, as it was and is for those abolitionist of old.

Smith has worked in city management for more than 25 years throughout the Midwest, and presently serves as city manager for the City of Maquoketa. He can be reached at