(Re-posted from 01/15/2021)
Not surprisingly, 2020 did not take with it the pandemic, rioting, and racism we wish would just go away.
Racism is not going to disappear on its own. Open and honest discussions with a great deal of third ear listening will be required to make any progress.
Here are some of the questions about racism I frequently get. Perhaps they will open some productive conversations for you.
Q: How can we use the pandemic pause to discuss race relations in the United States?
- Before engaging anyone else, go on a hunt for your own hidden (implicit) biases. Too often, we jump at the opportunity to point out what other people need to do before we have ourselves in order. Implicit biases are a lot like the coronavirus. We have tremendous ability to spread it even when we aren’t aware we have it.
- Once identified, challenge what you think you know about “others”. It’s highly unlikely that the millions of people in any race are exactly alike. Learn more about the full range of individuals and their stories. Read biographies of or books by people in the race you fear or dislike. Watch shows and movies with characters in that race. View art and listen to music from artists of that race. Immerse yourself so you can have new ideas and well-informed conversations with people in another race. Yet be careful not to assume that anything you read, watch, view, or hear reflects the experience of everyone in the race. There are too many other variables, such as gender, economic status, and geographical location.
- Engage with the intent to understand. Even if you’re being yelled at and blamed for things you didn’t do or situations you don’t know how to correct, just listen. This will take a lot of self-restraint at times. You will want to defend and justify yourself. When possible, don’t. Trust yourself and your record. Just listen. Ask questions. Let people free their emotions. Listen for the hurts you can heal. And heal the ones you can.
This is only the beginning, but it is a start. We must focus on our commonalities and come together. We must stop letting a tiny percentage of the world population, which holds most of its wealth, also hold most of its power—by dividing us. There is power in our numbers when we ground ourselves in our humanity.
Q: Why have we seen the rise of the alt-right in the US over the past few years?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few insights that might be of value.
One comes from a high school classmate who voted for Donald Trump. He said he is tired of being dismissed as ignorant and unsophisticated because he is an entrepreneur who went to work right away, instead of going to college. He doesn’t believe “the sky is falling” every time that an individual behaves in a boneheaded, or even violent, way. This is not to say he is unconcerned with the violence. He just isn’t going to attribute boneheaded or violent tendencies to an entire group of people, based on the actions of one person in a single instance. Although frustrated, he still believes in most people.
As I have aged and matured as a neutral, I can hear what my high school classmate was saying. I think often about the comments made by an acquaintance who visited the Midwest. She shamed people in a restaurant who didn’t applaud an activist group when they entered. She assumed this meant they were racist, not considering whether they saw the activists enter, were distracted feeding their kids, arguing with their spouses, or something else.
I know my colleague means well and is trying to advance equality in this country, but she didn’t see how her judgments labeled and alienated people who might share her goals. Instead of asking questions–and deeply listening to the experience from their points of view–she might have confirmed they had racist beliefs. But she might also have learned they were at the restaurant after a long day at the hospital with a dying relative. We will never know. Ironically, all we know for certain is that people were judged by how they appeared to someone who assumed her way is the “right” way.
We must have difficult conversations and stop labeling people as 100% anything, based on single instances.
Is this just another case of hurt people hurting people? Probably. And if that is the case, then it is unlikely that further dismissing and rejecting them as 100% unworthy of voice or life will heal any of us. It’s scary and counterintuitive, but we need to hear them out and uncover the deep causes of their hatefulness.
We don’t have to agree with people to listen to them. Telling one group to shut up and listen does nothing to further communication and unity.
Q: How has a group like the KKK survived and gained momentum?
Unfortunately, there will probably always be people who live outside the boundaries of what we believe is acceptable behavior. We lie to ourselves when we say we can eliminate them. The alienated will almost always find ways to connect with others who share their views, especially with the ease of organizing that the Internet brings. Perhaps if we explore why they feel alienated and satisfy their deep, psychological, or psychosocial needs (e.g., inclusion, acceptance, opportunity), the hate groups will be largely obsolete.
Q: Is dismantling Confederate monuments racial progress—or enough?
I am a (white) Diversity Trainer and Ethno-Religious Mediator based in New York City, but who grew up in Kentucky and who has lived in Texas, Pennsylvania, and several places in other parts of New York State. I also have family and friends throughout the country and world, and I spent two years as the Main Representative to the United Nations for the International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation. Challenging prejudices, looking for hidden biases, and healing racial injustice have been a large part of my career and life, yet I acknowledge my inability to ever understand the experience of Black people fully in the United States.
With all this in mind, I state with confidence that dismantling Confederate monuments and ridding sports teams and brands of racist imagery is not enough to eliminate 400 years of racial injustice. It can sometimes be a distraction from the systemic change that needs to occur. Yet it can effectively show a commitment to lasting change and different values–especially where the Confederate monuments were installed to glorify the Confederate cause and in backlash to the Civil Rights Movement.
Bottom line: we have a lot of work to do at every level.