When I hear his mother’s messages to him that he must be sensitive to his skin color, no matter how beautiful it is, with admonishments that not doing so is a danger, it is arresting. Likewise, when I hear the conversations he and his young Black friends have about their place in America, I not only hear the specific dangers to which she refers, I hear other dangers that are stifling, diminishing and flat-out obstacles to the kind of life any of us would want for our children. It comes through loud and clear that racism continues to be a strong force in America. And, I think, when you get right down to it, this continues to be true because the hearts and souls on all sides of the equation, no matter how well intentioned, are not there yet.
I wish every caring white American could be sensitized to the pain, suffering and diminishment that is embodied in the minority mindset. This is not a black issue, an Asian, Hispanic, a Jewish or Muslim issue – it’s everyone’s issue. I wish every caring white American could see that laws and rights and diversity initiatives, while helpful, will not resolve the issue by itself. It also requires genuinely extending your heart and soul, compassionately and over a sustained period, because there is much residue and much distrust to overcome.
Seeing life through another’s eyes
I wish every caring black person (this could well be true of other minority populations but I live in a black family and hear their conversations first-hand) could also understand his or her role in perpetuating prejudice. I think, for example, black people give white people far too much credit for being intentionally discriminating when I think much of what fires Blacks up about whites results from our insensitivity, ignorance or oblivion. We simply can’t see life through another’s eyes and, to put it bluntly, we’re mostly concerned with ourselves. Those who don’t face racial discrimination just don’t think nearly as much about Black/white issues.
Frankly, I think we’d forward the ball if we all just owned up to the fact that there is prejudice in each of us. That may open the door to a different and more generous conversation toward a resolution. It would be more effective than simply debating whether there is prejudice, who owns it, and who’s accountable for fixing it. Whether prejudice exists as an active element of our social fabric is a foolish question. It’s in and around us every day – just look and listen.
Photo from the ACLU
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