Updated: Jun 21, 2020
Our nation is groaning from the pain of racism, the cancer of our nation. While I've met many people throughout the years who comment, "But things have improved," if we have a little cancer, we still have cancer. And if doctors minimize or deny the presence of that little bit of cancer, it will grow.
How do we heal from this 400-year old cancer? How do we create unity and dismantle the various ways racism manifests itself in our individual lives and institutions--healthcare, politics, education, business, housing, faith communities, marriages and family lives, media, the arts and so on?
The first step to all change is being conscious of and accepting the problem, the disease. We, especially white people, must not deny or minimize this cancer. If we deny or minimize cancer, the outcome is eventually death.
The second step is to adopt or hold onto the vision expressed in our Scriptures and Declaration of Independence - that all of us are created equal and all of us are worthy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. God created and loves us all. We are one human family.
The third is to realize the bridge from where we are to where we are going will take generations to reach and that doesn't excuse us from sitting back and not making a whole-hearted, action-oriented contribution to creating this healthier vision for future generations. Our lives matter and what we choose to do or not to do to contribute to the well-being of our communities and world is on us.
As many of you may know I taught diversity classes for 28 years to college students. Most of my students were stunned, as I myself was in college, to learn about our history from different points of view. For some of my white students it was challenging to ponder the privilege of being white. Students who had never learned about the Japanese internment camps struggled to comprehend the mistreatment of Japanese Americans. While many students had learned about slavery, they did not know much about Jim Crow Laws, poll taxes, and had never heard of post traumatic slave syndrome. Very few knew of the great accomplishments of our African American citizens.
Even though I taught such classes, I still had and have so much to learn. We all do. Every next book or article we read to inform ourselves of a more accurate version of history and current affairs matters. Learning about the great contributions of people of color who make up this nation, and then sharing that with our children and grandchildren, makes a difference.
Every film we watch
Every community meeting we attend
Every nonviolent protest we observe or participate in
Every class we take
Every letter we write to protest injustice
Every racist comment we stop
Every choice we make
Every thought we think
All of this matters.
When we ponder our nation's history and the tragic mistreatment of our black citizens, when we consider the few legal reforms that have been made, it becomes clear that legal measures are not enough. We must individually and collectively examine the underlying causes of the various ways discrimination manifests itself and identify strategic lines of action to implement.
And we must cleanse our hearts and minds from the tendencies we have unconsciously inherited from our nation. We must free ourselves from the prejudices we've absorbed, the assumptions that perpetuate disunity and injustice. We must choose to be actively anti-racist. We make up the institutions that comprise our nations. We are part of the systems.
We can also make a commitment to stop ourselves when we are reacting and judging and instead seek and commit to understand what's going on. In order to come up with better solutions, we have to better understand the problems. Deeply and thoroughly examining the causes, effects, and an accurate version of history are steps in the right direction.
Instead of name-calling the people who are rioting, for example, we can ask, "What's really going on here? What's causing these riots?" I cringe every time someone suggests that the rioters are "thugs," "hoodlums" and "low-lifes." I am moved deeply when I hear, however, what Dr. Martin Later King, Jr. stated, "that riots are the language of the unheard."
One reaction is judgmental and prevents us from crossing that bridge from where we are towards our vision of a united world. The words from Dr. King, however, are constructive and reflect compassion and a desire to understand.
I appeal to all of us. The protests will die down, as they have in the past. We will find ways to distract ourselves from this pain.
But let's not.
Please, let's not.
I've been hearing from my friends of color and many of them are tired. They're tired of subtle and overt racism. And they're heart-broken and tired of worrying about their sons every time they leave the house. They're tired of teaching their kids how to walk through a store so they don't look like the thief the clerks might assume them to be. They're tired of teaching their boys that if a cop stops them to immediately place their hands away from their pockets, to do everything they are asked to do, to not argue at all, even if what's being asked seems unreasonable. They're re-traumatized every time another black man is shot and killed and the videos are playing on social media and the news.
For those of us who are white, I humbly ask, "how can we contribute to healing this cancer? How can we be at the forefront of social change and healing our nation and world." Even though we might feel like we are just one person, we impact those around us. We have influence, and we make choices every single day. Who we choose for our friends matters. The conversations we have in our homes matter. The stories we read our children matter. We can make a difference. Even if we are just one humble soul living this life.