How often during the last decade have you heard the use of the term “racist?” How often have YOU used the term “racist?” Have you spent any time considering its meaning and purposes for its use? Like it or not, agree with it or not, accept it or not, that term actually defines the parameters for the state of dispute and chaos in which the United States of America finds itself.
Some will argue that our 20th-century parents and grandparents did not spend much time thinking about or discussing race, equality and inequality, the social and political structure of racial divide in America, or what things should or should not be done to change political policy regarding racial issues. From time to time social and political events that popped up forced Americans to think through racial issues — mostly to simply try to find understanding for their varied ways racial issues showed themselves in public. Otherwise, it seemed that the “handling” of those were more often than not done at home, in a closed-door meeting with the boss, or — under extreme circumstances — on the street. Unfortunately, those “street” confrontations received most of the attention.
Do not for a moment think this story is in any way to diminish the existence of or the necessity to deal with any and all issues in our nation dealing with race that are daily escalating with little or no real resolution on the horizon. Americans MUST tackle these problems. But just like addressing other problems in our personal, business, or social lives, we must first define a problem before possible resolutions can be identified, discussed, with ultimate resolution.
How Do We Do That?
In 1980, candidate Reagan asked the American people a question that is now iconic political history. “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” He knew the answer, and he knew that the overwhelming majority of Americans had an opinion about the right answer. Politicians of all stripes have tried repeatedly to re-create that stark, black and white choice. As is often the case, the power of an original line is lost when the moment in time is no longer right for the message. The message is again right.
America has a problem with race relations. It’s a human problem flamed by profiteers who gain from division either politically or economically — or both. It is not simply an American problem. Make no mistake, however, in a country where we once held blacks as property, placed them in chains, and subjugated them under the law, the stain of racism is on our soul and is still part of our modern culture. We are not born racists: we teach racism and pass it on or down.
Do we want to fix racism in this country? You bet. The overwhelming majority of Americans want it gone, and our government and numerous groups have fought from broadly different perspectives to combat it. The fight has ebbed and flowed, and we have found some success and some complete failures. Indeed, we cannot even agree on what racism is let alone how to wipe it from our culture.
On this we must agree; race relations in America are worse now than they were eight years ago. This is not to say that President Obama was the “cause” of poor race relations or that President Trump is the “cause” of poor race relations. It is to say that Obama’s prescriptions for combating racial injustice did not help, and his leadership on the issue served to fan the flames of racial mistrust. I promise you that was not his intention as some folks truly believe. Mr. Obama grew up black in America. His view was profoundly different from that of those who did not, and as President, he had a passion to expose racism and problems he had seen, fought, and perceived for decades. His had been a life of racial grievance, fighting “the man.” Then he was elected and became “the man.” His fight became all about exposing the world as he saw it. Was he wrong for that? We judge intelligent sounding public policy based on outcomes, not intentions. Mr. Obama made race relations worse, even if he was only wrong for all the right reasons.
Racism is real in America … and recently Newt Gingrich discussing escalating racial issues during the Trump Administration told white Americans that they could never really know what it was like to grow up black in America. He is right … dead right. Likewise, for many minorities, they don’t know what it is like to grow up white in America. Whiteness is not a ticket to success, nor is it a path paved by privilege. Every individual in this country has hurdles, and the absence of color surely removes one hurdle for non-minorities. Racism in America is worse not because white people are becoming more and more racist. Racism in America is getting worse because we are counting and dividing by race. We are promoting and hiring based on race. We are suing and being sued based on race. We are admitting and denying based on race — even that bastion of racial equality among Ivy League universities — Harvard. We are selling and buying distrust from our leaders, even in some churches, and family members based on race. With that distrust, we are accepting the false narrative that all whites are racists, that they have unchecked privilege, and that they seek to oppress, deny, and punish blacks for being black. Whites look at staggering black crime rates, gun violence, and anti-white militancy and they too fall prey to the false narrative that blacks pose a higher risk of being a threat just because they are black. Who can stop it? Not this old white guy.
All of this happens when the emphasis of our leaders and our public policy is on our color, rather than the content of our character or the measure of our accomplishments. We cannot and we will not succeed in a war on racism until we stop making and selling assumptions based on race – no matter our race. The best way to attack this problem is to move to a race-neutral society, where the government does not divide us by race. It is hard to build a United States in a country where we divide each other socially, academically, or legally based on color. We cannot be a United States when we demonize each other, attack the necessary fundamentals of civil society, and assume and sell the concept that law enforcement and the justice system are designed to oppress people of color. They are not.
Yes, racism exists in America. However, in a country where the last President was black, and Virginia, Ohio, and California are states he overwhelmingly won, we know that “color” is thankfully not the sole measure of a man by reasonable, responsible people. What we need now is to have more reasonable, responsible, color neutral people, governments, and organizations. Here is what is true: If you dislike or distrust someone because of the color of his or her skin — no matter what color their skin is — you may have a propensity to be racist, irrespective of the color of your skin.
The success of America is based on a simple formula that works across any color boundary. Get an education. Get, and stay, married. Raise your kids in a loving family to respect people, irrespective of color or faith. Promote education, and encourage civic activism and volunteerism in your local community. When we do those things, we will change our society. If, however, we continue down a path of broken families, broken communities, race-baiting, racial profiteering, and distrust there will be no United in our states. The answer is black and white, but it starts one household at a time, black and white.
How Can We Start That Change?
Academy Award recipient Denzel Washington chimed in on that topic the topic of racism and what Americans must do to tackle it.
Denzel is speaking to a reporter who asked Denzel how he thinks race relationships are in America. Denzel responded: “Race relationships have to do with race relationships. You’re white, or whatever you are, and I’m black, or whatever I am, and we’re standing here talking now. That’s how we get things done. You can’t legislate love. The President of the United States cannot legislate us into liking each other. We have to step forward and ask questions about each other and engage. There’s no law that says because I’m President you all gotta get along now. So it’s up to us.”
It sounds fairly simple and seems pretty easy for the Oscar winner Denzel Washington to reach out to the “other side” to open lines of communication to discuss all things pertaining to race. It’s another thing for everyday folks who live in Middle America to get started in that process — especially when every day it becomes more and more obvious to Americans that the nation seems to daily grow more and more racially divided.
A recent poll finds most Americans believe race relations in this country are bad. More than half of whites think so, and more than two-thirds of blacks. Even more troubling, 40 percent of blacks and whites believe race relations are getting worse. One possible reason: The poll found big majorities — 60 percent of whites and 71 percent of blacks — believe most Americans are uncomfortable discussing race with someone of another race.
But one group is helping blacks and whites break down the racial wall by breaking bread together. It starts out like any dinner party. But then, a difficult conversation begins. “Blacks don’t trust white people by and large,” said Linda, a black woman. “And whether you think it’s based on history is irrelevant.”
“I didn’t have black friends,” Curtis, a white man, said. “A couple of acquaintances, but never had them in our home, never in their home.”
They call themselves Chattanooga Connected: A group of blacks and whites who meet once a month to have dinner and talk openly about race. They were brought together by 75-year-old Franklin McCallie, a son of privilege whose family name is seen everywhere in town. He said he was raised to believe in the South’s segregationist order.
“I’ve used the N-word and I told some N-jokes,” McCallie says. “They were ‘less.’ They lived in less homes, they got off the street, they said ‘sir’ to me as a young man.” But in college, a conversation with a black student from a nearby African-American school changed everything. “He said, ‘You know where we eat lunch? My uncles and I, who fought in World War II for freedom and justice and the pursuit of happiness?'” McCallie recalls, becoming emotional. “‘We get on a bus and ride two miles out of town to eat lunch ’cause none of the stores we shop in will let us eat.'”
Curtis Baggett said the conversations around the dinner table can get uncomfortable – but that that’s a good thing. “I think it’s liberating,” Baggett says. “It was so freeing for the first time in my life to have a black man tell me what it really felt like to be walking around a grocery store, a mini-mart, and have the owner of the mini-mart follow him up and down the aisles because he didn’t trust him. I’ve never thought of that before.”
McCallie acknowledges that the dinner parties aren’t likely to end racism in America – but they’re a start. “If it all stops at this house, it wouldn’t do that much more,” McCallie says. “It’s got to go other places.” People finally seeing each other, by talking face-to-face.
One thing is very obvious: people of different races and different color have varying differences, come from varying circumstances, and therefore have varying perspectives. I as a Christan feel strongly that as hard as it may be, it is more important than hard for us to find ways to open discourse with each other. The Chattanooga Connected example of doing so may seem simple, and even silly to you, but it illustrates one very important element in any racial reconciliation process that MUST exist: honest effort to communicate with the “other” side to honestly find similarities, differences, and develop sincere plans and even a timeline to push for common goals and objectives.
In one of the best racial movies of all time — A Time to Kill — Carl Lee in his jail cell after shooting two men who raped his little girl has a brief discussion with Jake, his attorney:
Until ALL of America gets to a place of realization that for ANY American racial reconciliation, we MUST learn how to — and commit to — begin honest dialogue with each other to define differences and similarities between us and unite to implement necessary changes to eliminate the fires of racism.