It’s hard work. The bottom line about addressing racism in this country is that it’s hard work. We have to be willing to listen. We have to try to be empathetic. We have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
And that’s hard.
Most of us spend the better part of the day comfortably in our own perspective. We make two key assumptions from this point of view: 1) our perspective is true, and 2) others’ perspectives are similar to our own.
When we learn that there is a radically different perspective, an experience we had never considered, someone else’s truth, we doubt its legitimacy. Doubting is okay, after all, that perspective isn’t indigenous to us; it’s new and different and learning is hard.
Denying is not okay.
Denying someone else’s perspective is doubling-down on our first assumption. What we see is true, so what they see must be false. Denying someone else’s perspective puts that someone else at other. We divide and belittle when we reject others’ perspectives. We assert our own moral rightness leaving others to wrongness.
We end the conversation before it ever even gets started.
We have to be willing to listen. We have to try to be empathetic. We have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Imagine what the experience is like for them. Try to understand their hurt and anger and fear and frustration. All uncomfortable emotions that we don’t feel in our position of privilege.
Acknowledging we are privileged does not put us at a disadvantage. We have all the advantages, that’s the whole point. We have a perspective that is shaped by the advantages that we don’t even know exist.
The hard thing about addressing racism in this country is shutting the fuck up and listening to someone else’s perspective on it. How do they feel? What are their fears? How can I respond in a supportive and loving way?
#TakeAKnee isn’t about hating our country. It’s about hating the denial we have adopted in lieu of real conversations about race and dignity and privilege.
When I explained the most recent chapter in this complicated narrative, President Trump’s ridiculously callous comments, my nine-year-old daughter said, “I really thought we were done with all that.”
She really thought the Civil Rights Movement and I Have a Dream and integration had cured us of all that ugliness and bitterness and ignorance. And God bless, I wish we were cured.
But we’re not. Our nation is still sick with racism and we cannot ignore it and we cannot put off dealing with it for the next generation or the one after that.
We are in the enviable position in this country to be climbing to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. We have self-actualization in sight. To be fully actualized, we need to be honest about the ugliness at our roots. This isn’t about blame or victimhood. It’s about understanding and compassion.
It starts with being willing to have conversations that make us uncomfortable. Being willing to admit we don’t understand someone’s perspective. Respecting that perspective as valid. Believing that perspective is as true as our own.
We don’t fix centuries of racism with a couple of years of sensitivity training. This isn’t a politically correct whinefest.
The vitriol coming from those who would not even grant a man the right to kneel is crazy pants. It reminds me of the Dixie Chicks fervor. Remember that? People so quick to defend President Bush that they burned the Chicks’ CDs in effigy, demanded their money back, threatened country music stations, and protested outside of concerts. It was cuckoo pants.
Our country loves to shout, “Free Speech!” until that speech comes from someone else’s denied perspective.
Why would you refuse someone the right to express themselves when, in doing so, they can help you understand their experience?
Inclusion is the solution. To truly understand others’ perspectives, we have to be willing to listen. We have to show compassion. We have to try to put ourselves in their shoes. We have to love them.
And we have to be willing to change. I’m willing.