We all want to be comfortable. We start each day, hoping it will go smoothly, even when we fear it won’t.
It’s not surprising that we don’t want to talk about race. It’s rarely a comfortable topic. There’s a good chance someone is going to be offended. It might even be you.
On Martin Luther King Day 2018, it was me. I attended the MLK Now event at The Riverside Church, where Dr. King gave his famous speech against the Vietnam War–exactly one year before he was assassinated. I expected messages of unity among the races. That is what I knew Dr. King to promote. I might have also wanted and needed those messages.
The MLK holiday is challenging for me because it marks a life-changing event. On the night before the holiday in 2014, I was violently assaulted on my way home from a peacemaking workshop. My assailant was a 14-year-old boy of color whose Facebook page suggested he wanted to be in a gang. He might have already been in one. Or he at least wanted to be perceived as a gang member who had access to a lot of money, sex with girls, and marijuana to smoke.
The police and prosecutors suspected I was targeted because I was female, if not also because I am white. I might never know. I might not want to know. What difference would that make for the future?
I chose not to adopt the judiciary’s suspicions without sufficient evidence. I won’t project one teenager’s actions on all people of his age, gender, ethnicity, or affiliations. I go to events like MLK Now to keep my brain’s amygdala from playing those tricks on me.
It’s hard to hear that not everyone has the same goals, which is what I heard at the event in 2018. It was hard for me to remember much beyond the anger and hatred toward “white girl tears”. I sat in the pew with tears filling my eyes, not because I wanted attention. I was emotional because I was experiencing empathy.
I might be limited in my understanding of racial exclusion and institutional racism because I am white. Yet I can relate to the pain of exclusion from groups that are important to me. I can relate to not having food, a place to live, healthcare, or other things my peers enjoy. I can relate to feeling like no matter how hard I work, there are still many places where I am unwelcome.
These could be common bonds with which we could build a bridge. I remind myself of this each year when I attend the MLK Now event and each time I am singled out because of the color of my skin.
Even if we can’t fully eliminate racism, there are actions we can take toward that goal. We must not shirk our duties to create something better, solely because perfection is unlikely. Keep listening with your third ear for the hurts you can heal, and heal what you can. Making these seven choices might also help.
- Forgive yourself for having racial conflicts.
- Acknowledge yourself for taking any actions to resolve them.
- Forgive the world for having and creating racial conflicts.
- Free the emotions, including your White Girl Tears, if applicable.
- Clear your mind, or just stop listening to it.
- If you must make assumptions about other races, assume you know nothing about them.
- Listen with your third ear, your heart, or with compassion.
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