The Charlotte Observer’s website ran a story about a legendary South Carolina barbeque joint that is trying to overcome a legacy of racism The restaurant is more than 70 years old, now has 4th-generation family members working there, and in some circles is considered the originator of the SC mustard-based sauce on their pulled pork. The restaurant was also founded by one of the most egregious racists this side of Strom Thurmond. Maurice Bessinger was on another level. He didn’t just sell food, he also sold white supremacist literature – and would give you a discount on your food if you bought it.

He retired in 2010, turning the business over to his children. They immediately began removing the racist literature and Confederate flags. Bessinger died in 2014. The proprietors say, “We’re not trying to hide anything. We want to move forward.” People are wondering, now that the old man is dead and the kids have taken all the racist symbols out, is it OK to eat there? Or, by eating there, are you endorsing the old man’s racist life? Are the kids sincere, or are they just as racist and are putting on a friendly appearance to make more money? And if they are, does it matter?

These questions encapsulate the race relations issue quite well, in my opinion. And it’s the biggest pile of cow manure I have seen in a very long time.

Let’s get the last question out of the way first.. No, it doesn’t matter if they are motivated by profit. Why does anyone get up and go to work every morning? To make money. No matter how much you love what you do, you are not going to do it for free. Pay no attention to the wannabe-Communists who are trying to render making money as an evil act. Those folks aren’t lining up to give their stuff away, they just want YOU to give up everything you have for “the greater good.” Nonsense. There is nothing wrong with making money.

On to the bigger questions. The true evil in this story is trying to pin the “racist” label on the kids for no other reason that they were born of a racist background. Each person is responsible for his/her own moral code. If you think all humans are not equal, and the skin color is what makes some less human than others – and therefore, inferior – YOU ARE STUPID. It doesn’t matter how Southern or Northern the latitude of your upbringing is, what the culture was, what Mama & Daddy believed, or anything else. YOU are responsible for what you think and believe.

Let’s apply this to a different scenario. Remember “Family Ties” from the 80’s? There was Alex P. Keaton, a teenage conservative in a family full of bleeding-heart liberals. I grew up in the same way. Many members of my family have never voted for anything other than a Democrat their entire lives. I was Republican until my recent conversion to Libertarianism. I could have easily followed the herd, but instead I chose some very unpopular stances. I developed my own convictions. It has served me well. While too many people spend all their waking hours quaking in fear of other people possibly not liking them, my conscience is clear, knowing my beliefs are my own and not a product of which direction the wind is blowing today.

The same applies to how you view others. Whenever you meet someone for the first time, you should assume this is a good person, someone you can work, socialize or worship with, that will enrich your life as a result of being in it. If this is a bad person, (s(he will make it obvious eventually. The words and actions will make it plain; you won’t have to do any of the work. The problem we have now is that we don’t often take this approach. The media bears a majority of the blame. I think it’s ridiculous that one of Charlotte’s TV stations has carved out time in its news broadcast for a feature called “the good news.” Why? Because 20 out of 30 minutes of a half-hour newscast is negative, and they run 9 minutes of commercials. They believe that’s what we want – all bad news, all the time. And they are using that belief to influence our thinking – Are you a young, black man? Every police officer in the country wants you dead. Are you gay? Every person that claims to be Christian wants you to burn in hell, starting yesterday. Are you Middle Eastern? All Americans blame you for the 9/11/01 attacks and want you either dead or deported. Are you Hispanic? The President once said you and everyone like you is a drug dealer and a rapist and wants you deported. Are you female? All males want you in the kitchen, barefoot, pregnant, and subservient to everything a man tells you. Are you a white male? You are an elitist, privileged, homophobic, xenophobic, woman-hating racist, and every bit of this is your fault. Slavery is also your fault – no, not the people that actually committed those atrocities hundreds of years ago, YOU are responsible. And whatever any of the aggrieved groups demand of you, you must comply, otherwise you prove that you really are an elitist, privileged, homophobic, xenophobic, woman-hating racist. And what do we do? Lap it up like a thirsty, obedient dog. If you are part of the aforementioned groups, you believe the exaggerated claims the media feeds you.

I’ve said this in the past, but I need to keep saying it: You cannot know people by reading about them or watching a broadcast about them. Growing up in suburban southwest Ohio, I had very little interaction with people of color. It wasn’t because I or my family intentionally segregated ourselves; it was because there weren’t many people of color around. The year I graduated high school, there were just under 2,100 students. There were 78 black students, and even fewer Latinos or Asians. Most of what I had to go on were stereotypes. Moving to North Carolina to go to college, where minorities are a much larger share of the population, gave me an opportunity to get to know people of different backgrounds vs what I saw in the media. My wife has been able to educate me about the “Driving While Black” problem. I have friends in Toastmasters who are from other countries, and I’ve been able to hear their experiences.

After a post a few weeks back, a friend of mine challenged me to go deeper on the media’s role in the race relations issue. I think life experience is what hampers members of the media. They go to college and get their communication and journalism degrees, and gain a very liberal worldview as a result, particularly if they attend a public university. Public universities are like public K-12 schools – “public” is another way of saying “government-funded.” The instructors are employees of the state they are in. If government is paying the salary that houses, feeds and clothes you and your family, you are going to have a more favorable view of government. That’s human nature. It will be evident in the way they instruct students. So now you have a typical college grad that has spent 16 years getting government education, looking for a job in media/journalism. They land the gig. Now, as part of the territory of the job, they interact with government officials regularly. Sadly, most elected officials view their role as one of superiority and power, not of servitude to the citizens, and they spend most of their efforts trying to increase their power and influence. The more time the journalist spends in this environment, the more detached they get from rank-and-file people. They are more and more influenced by the officials who speak to the journalist’s preferred ideology. They buy in to what the officials say, Now, back in the newsroom, his/her colleagues have a big pile of bad news for the next broadcast.

There is one other thing that contributes to all this. Americans are lazy. I don’t like saying that about myself, but to some degree it is true. We do little to truly educate ourselves. How many times have you seen something shared on Facebook or Twitter that was factually false? People see something that matches their pre-conceived ideas, and just click the “share” button. Pepsi’s Facebook page has been drowning in calls for boycotts from mindless Trump supporters who saw some story that claimed the CEO said Trump supporters “are free to take their business elsewhere.” There’s just one problem – she never said such a thing. She was certainly an adamant supporter of Hillary Clinton, and said so quite loudly. But she would never be stupid enough to incite up to 50% of the country to go to Pepsi’s competitors. She would have been fired the next day if she did. We have to educate ourselves. And because there is no such thing as a completely unbiased piece of information, you have to go to multiple sources. Generally, when I see a political statement I want to validate, I take 3 steps: 1) Find an article about it on Fox News, 2) find an article about it on NBC, ABC or CBS News, and 3) look for ground between 1 and 2. Usually, the truth will be there.

You have to be thorough. You could fill a small public library with all the books and material that will tell you that in 1839, Abner Doubleday was in Cooperstown, NY, playing a game of town ball with friends, got frustrated with the loose town ball regulations, and sat down in the field and drew up a new set of more firm rules, and called the game “baseball.” When Major League Baseball decided to open a Hall of Fame, it was deliberately decided to build the museum in Cooperstown, NY, and to open it in 1939, exactly 100 years after Doubleday invented the game. But there’s one problem – it is a fable with almost no basis in reality. Doubleday was at the US Military Academy in West Point in 1839, not Cooperstown. He did play town ball as a kid, but never claimed to have anything to do with the legend that he drew up the rules of baseball. What actually happened? As this continent was colonized, immigrants brought their games with them. The most popular were cricket, rounders and town ball. Out of those 3 games, baseball evolved. It was never “invented” by one person on one day. Yet, the myth lives on. Every summer, when MLB enshrines a new class of players and contributors to the Hall of Fame, at some point during the festivities, someone will refer to the town in which they stand as the birthplace of baseball. Abner Doubleday should be a famous historical figure, but it should be because he was a decorated war hero during the Civil War. But, outside of History majors, if you say Abner Doubleday to an average person, the response will be either “never heard of him” or “he’s the guy that invented baseball.”

I hope I have convinced you that more than anything else, our greatest need in America is critical thinking. Talk to people different than you and listen to their personal experiences. See a sensational headline? Don’t hit “share” until you have verified it with at lest 2-3 outside sources. And most importantly – just because you saw it on your favorite TV station doesn’t mean it’s true!