This letter to the editor was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.

To the LebTown Team:

This week, you started a series of community columns “to help bring our community together in a time of extreme polarization,” because it “is important to discuss given the unprecedented protest activity we witnessed across the nation last week.”

Thank you for making the space for community members to offer healing and promote unity, and for including perspectives from both political parties in your first two installments, both of which I read, prompting me to write the following response.

District Attorney Pier Hess Graf wrote that we are at a crossroads. County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz asks where our civility has gone. At least she used the word prejudice to describe what’s happening in the world. Both women are white community leaders, neither of whom used the words racism, bias or oppression when describing the problems facing our country at this time.

So I feel compelled to offer a different perspective about what we are witnessing across many communities this week. It’s not polarization. Prejudice is only the tip of the iceberg. Crossroads? Not even close. There is no reason to mince words. What we are experiencing from every corner of the country results directly from centuries of oppression and marginalization of black and brown voices in America. The effects of institutional racism are on full display from our state capital to our country’s capital and many places in between. Yes, the unrest comes on the heels of a global pandemic that has killed over 100,000 Americans (including a disproportionate number of black and brown Americans), and in conjunction with the United States sinking into a depression, and we cannot ignore the conditions in which this unrest is exploding. I understand and empathize with each and every person who is hurting right now for whatever reason – all feelings are ok, and it is important to acknowledge them. But we cannot ignore the root cause of the protests erupting across the country: black and brown people are being killed daily in the United States, many of them because of the impact of brutal and dangerous policing systems, but mostly because of deeply entrenched racism that exists from coast to coast.

I believe fundamentally that all people are good at heart. Ask my mom – she’ll call me an eternal optimist. I also believe that being a “good” or “bad” person is not relevant to the escalating tensions we are experiencing – as one of my favorite Harry Potter characters says, “we’ve all got both light and dark inside us.” Racism is a multilayered system embedded in our culture, and we are all responsible – regardless of political or religious affiliation – for our actions. For recognizing and interrupting the forces of racism in our country. White people do not get to exempt themselves from racism by using terms like “crossroads” and “prejudice” – and I say that as a white person who hid behind racism for years with terms like those.

In fact, if we intend to be white allies, we must work even harder to identify and work against our blind spots by talking to and building relationships with people of color, reading authors of color, supporting businesses owned by people of color, learning all we can about the racist (and oft-untold) history of our country, and by listening. Above all, listening.

I feel disappointed in LebTown’s decision to couch the country’s protests as “extreme polarization” rather than speaking truth to power. This series has the potential to be robust and compelling coverage by seeking out and elevating voices of color in Lebanon County or investigating what’s prompting our neighbors in Dauphin, Lancaster and York Counties to speak up loudly and often in solidarity with our black and brown community members. I expect more from my local media organization that aims to “provide…comprehensive journalism intended to…promote the general well-being of Lebanon County,” and I look forward to improved coverage in the future.


Michelle Hess
Lebanon Catholic Alumna 2004
South Lebanon Township Community Member

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