The events of the last few days have had me thinking a lot about a topic I really haven’t given much mental time to – race. The other night, I had a long conversation with my wife about what is going on in our country (and in other countries) as well as what our privilege is or is not. We are saddened to see violence, prejudice, hate, fear and unkindness so rampant. It was the first real conversation on the topic of race that I can recall having since high school.
I am a firm believer that hate is taught. I also believe that we all need more opportunities to love and be loved. We are past the point where “not hating” is enough. We must look for and take opportunities to love.
I grew up in a lower middle-class suburban neighborhood of Salt Lake City. My childhood was spent running around the neighborhood playing with friends and returning home when the street lights turned on. I went to school with a predominantly White American group mixed with Latino American, Asian American, Polynesian American, African-American classmates and a few Native Americans. Most of my neighbors were white and therefore most of my friends were white. I had a few Latino and Vietnamese friends who lived near me that I would hang out with and play. I never have had close African American friends and I wish I did. I was never taught to hate but I am sure I could have taken more opportunities to love.
Across the street from me was an African American couple. I waived to them. They waved back. They would support my school fundraisers and were kind. I don’t know their names and they stayed to themselves most of the time. That said, I guess I did too. They didn’t have any kids for me to play with so I didn’t spend time with them. They moved as I was entering my teen years and a white couple moved in. I missed an opportunity to love.
For a couple years, our family hosted a wonderful Navajo young woman during the school year. She became a great friend and someone who I still call my sister. I took an opportunity to love.
My aunt and uncle adopted two children from Mexico and I suddenly had two cousins my age to play with. I took an opportunity to love.
I believe I went to the most ethnically diverse high school in my State. I honestly loved the cultural mix our school had. That said, I didn’t play sports so I didn’t hang out with the jocks that happened to be comprised of more African Americans and Polynesian Americans than Caucasians. I was friendly but not friends. I know I missed opportunities to love.
I graduated high school, worked the summer and went to the local university in the Fall. That first year in college I was a number. I enjoyed my time as a volunteer Project Leader with the Bennion Center and classes at the Institute of Religion. That is where the positive memories of my freshman year came from. I was taking very full class loads to best make use of the limited scholarship money I had received so I didn’t spend much, if any, time socializing. I know I missed opportunities to love.
I then went to Brazil for two years and fell in love with the people of Brazil. This was my first time out of America. While performing service, I met people from all over Brazil with varying degrees of skin tones. While some were white and some were black and many more the Latin American tones, I didn’t notice any overt racism but to say there wasn’t any would probably be a lie. I was given an opportunity to love and I took it.
Upon my return, I went back to the University. My upper level classes were mostly filled with Caucasians and Asian Americans with a few Polynesians. We made friendships. I took opportunities to love but I know that our program wasn’t diverse enough.
Entering the workforce, most of my jobs have lacked some diversity or a lot of diversity. There have been some Latinos, Asian Americans, Arab-Americans and African Americans in addition to the predominately white workforce in the companies I have had the opportunity to work with. I hope that each co-worker I have had the chance to rub shoulders with have felt my love for them. I am sure I could have taken more opportunities to love.
In my life today, I have relatives and clients who are African American and my heart breaks for the pain and mistreatment that they and their families have had to endure by those who were taught to hate or by those who have not taken opportunities to love. I am not ignorant of my experiences or privilege compared to theirs. There is an open wound of racism that still festers in our communities that must be healed if we are to truly love one another.
I have read much over the last few days, doing my best to avoid social media coverage, and have added additional material to my list to read in the near future trying to learn how I can support and take more opportunities to love them.
I read this morning in “The Harvard Business Review” an article written by Laura Morgan Roberts and Ella F. Washington which described a few missteps in the racial discussion that we might make and should avoid as well as things we can do to show support those who suffer the impact of racism.
The first misstep is keeping silent. It seems we are trained to default to silence rather than discussing race. We want to avoid conflict and being seen as prejudiced. As Desmond Tutu said. “If you are neutral in the situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We must speak up because silence is not enough. Based on the start of this blog post I have been silent for too long. I apologize and ask forgiveness. I have missed an opportunity to love.
The second misstep is to become overly defensive. We all become defensive when our views, positions or advantages are challenged. We may begin to look to justify the mistreatment or we may focus instead on the improper looting or other behaviors rather than discussing the unjust act that lead people to the streets. “Openness means being able to listen to ideas that are outside one’s current mental models, being able to suspend judgment until after one has heard someone else’s idea.” (Warren Bennis)
The third misstep is overgeneralizing. While similar groups of people have shared experiences, there is diversity within groups. We need to avoid generalizing groups or opinions. Allow individuals to share their unique experiences and honor that without having them put on the spot or asking them to speak on behalf of everyone in an identity group.
After discussing three missteps we commonly make, the authors then move to things that I and the rest of us, should be doing to take meaningful action.
The first is to acknowledge. Acknowledge any harm our friends of color have endured. Then begin a lifelong pursuit to learn about racism and the aggressions and micro-aggressions they have most likely faced. Give a space to allow anger, fear, disenchantment and disengagement. Then remember, it is not the job of a person of color to have to educate us about racism – we should learn on our own and have discussions to learn more.
The second is to affirm. Affirm that they have a right to safety and personhood. Help them feel protected. Affirm that belief by replacing business leaders and elected leaders who fail to provide safety, protection and opportunities. Let them know their feelings matter and that you care, even if they don’t want to talk about what is going on.
Finally, act. You can use whatever power or influence you have to effect change after some time spent critical thinking. Use words of understanding and encouragement. Engage. Speak up and practice anti-racism. Advocate for action in your workplace, community and city. Build a better world for us all.
By acknowledging, affirming and acting we can practice loving. If we look for opportunities to love, we will find them.
This has turned into a long post as I knew it would. It has allowed me to express my experiences and what I have started to learn and understand about the reality and consequences of racism. I pledge to seek opportunities to love. I will not remain silent when I see an injustice. I will use my influence to affect change. I know “not being racist” isn’t enough and I will work at becoming an anti-racist.
This blog allows you to experience the raw, gut wrenching drama of human conflict through accounting in each of its three stages: preparing to do battle, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.