The Race Project: Cheryl Smith and Dave Turner
In this episode of The Race Project series, a conversation with two Yellow Springs residents, David Turner and Cheryl Smith, about the legacy of slavery in the United States.
Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity)
David Turner: My name is David Turner, I'm a retired engineer. I've been married for several decades. I have two wonderful sons and I'm a, you know, an old white guy.
Cheryl Smith: My name is Cheryl Smith. I am an African-American woman. I'm a psychiatric nurse and a former member of the original Black Panther Party.
David Turner: The original Black Panther Party aspect is interesting. How did that come to be?
Cheryl Smith: When I saw the body of Emmett Till in a casket. I always felt the need to be a part of something to speak to racism. So, David, I would like to ask you, in speaking about American history, what do you feel about the legacy of slavery?
David Turner: I think it's muddy. And like everything else, massive problems take a long time to fix. And so I think there's an urgency now to to fix things and to do something.
Cheryl Smith: So if I could just ask once again from your deepest heart. What do you think about slavery?
David Turner: In this country or in general?
Cheryl Smith: Our history as Americans.
David Turner: In my deepest heart, it's just sad, and I can't say much more than that. Cheryl, what do you think about the current national dialog on race?
Cheryl Turner: It's redundant of 'yes, this is terrible - let's change it,' and then we slide back into 'yeah, but let's not change it systemically.' As a white man, how do you think you participate in that system?
David Turner: I don't see the same systems in place, in an overarching way, now as there were in the past 50, 100, 200 years ago, a thousand years ago. I don't think that there is a system controlled by a small group of people that's saying, 'Okay, we're going to do this with the Black people and we're going to do this with the Pacific Islanders. And this for the white people.' There is a system that makes sure that the roads are here and taken care of, and they do a pretty good job of that. So that to me is a system that's in place that we're all affected by.
Cheryl Smith: You and I disagree. When I say systemic, what I mean is that this country is rooted and grounded in the belief that white is better, more human, than Black. That's a narrative we've heard from the very beginning. How else could I have been a thing? How could I be owned if you didn't believe that? That belief system has never been eradicated.
So when I say systemic, I mean that the remnants of that carry through in every institution in our nation, it's always there. That's what I mean when I say systemic.
David Turner: You know, I don't know what to say to that because I don't...I mean, I understand I'm clearly, you know, in so many ways, I'm at the top of the pecking order. So I can't see it the way that you do. I have two sons. I can't imagine how awful it would be to have to be thinking every time my child is going to go out in a car that they might die. Well, Cheryl, I read, think and talk about this a lot. You and I have a lot of things that we agree on, I bet, and we have some things that we disagree on and we can feel strongly about the disagreements, but it's important to work those things out.
Cheryl Smith: How do I get you to stay in the conversation even when you get uncomfortable?
David Turner: I want to be in that conversation. I hope that my grandchildren in 40 or 50 or 60 years won't be having this conversation. Not that I think that'll happen, but we will progress toward it. And I appreciate you.
Cheryl Smith: I'm hopeful basically because of their resilience and tenacity of African-American people, and my hope is that my grandchildren, as they sit in this seat at the age of 60 or 70, will be able to say, I don't worry about my children not coming home at night.
David Turner: Will you continue to say hello to me in the streets?
Cheryl Smith: [laughs] No Dave, I'll never speak to you again. [laughs] I appreciate you very much, everything that you shared.
David Turner: Well, thank you, Cheryl, I appreciate you.
Additional production support from David Seitz, Angela Moore, Jack Long and Meghan Malas. This story was produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.