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When President Donald Trump made derogatory comments about NFL players that chose to take a knee rather than stand and salute the American flag, his opponents and critics accused him of dividing America along racial lines.  Interestingly, a few years ago-2013 to be exact-when President Barack Obama made statements about Trayvon Martin, many of his opponents and critics accused him of dividing America along racial lines as well.  Now, which is it?  Is President Trump dividing America or did President Obama divide America?

Let’s look at both presidents’ comments more closely.  President Trump alluded to black male football players that had decided to take a knee rather than stand for the National Anthem before their games. He called them “sons of bitches” and suggested that they needed to be fired.  President Obama referred to a young, black male by the name of Trayvon Martin. He said that Trayvon could have been his son and than made it more personal by saying “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” Do you see the common denominator in these statements?  Both presidents refer to the same racial group, black males. What’s dividing America isn’t politics.  What’s dividing America is our perspectives on race.

It is no secret that we are split down the middle when it comes to race.  In 2016, the Pew Research Center released its findings on race in America and below is a brief summary based on a survey given to almost 4000 Americans (click here to see the full report):

84% of blacks believe blacks are treated less fairly by police.  Only 50% of whites believe blacks are treated less fairly by police.

41% of whites feel too much focus is on race and racial issues while only 22% of blacks said too much focus is on race and racial issues.  

88% of blacks believe the country needs to continue making changes for equality to occur while 53% of whites believe the country needs to continue making changes for equality to occur.  

64% of blacks feel they are treated less fairly in the workplace.  22% of whites believe blacks are treated less fairly in the workplace.  

And for those that think Americans are more unified in the church, it just isn’t true.  Although both black and white Evangelicals share similar beliefs around Christmas, Jesus as Savior and Lord, along political lines they are just as divided.  Over 80% of white Protestant Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in last year’s election.  At least 80% of black Protestant Evangelicals voted for Hillary Clinton.  

If we factor in economic division, you will also notice there is a huge gap among blacks and whites.  The average household income for whites in 2014 was $71,300 and for blacks in 2014 it was $43,300.   

I could keep going, but I think all of you get the point. We simply do not see racial issues from the same perspective, and that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone.

Yesterday morning, my husband decided to go for a very early jog. It was close to 5 am.  I found myself becoming fearful, as I heard the door close behind him.  What if he looked suspicious to someone and they called the police?  What if the police tried to stop him but he didn’t hear them because his ear-buds were in his ears?  I literally had to turn my mind off from thinking negative thoughts.  It was just an early morning jog.  He would be okay.

Now, depending on where you live, your background, your race or your age, my experience either makes a lot of sense or no sense at all. The bottom line is it made sense to me and whether you agree that I had a legitimate reason to be apprehensive about my husband’s run, or if you disagree and think I am blowing things out of proportion, can you respect my experience?  I can respect you without agreeing with you. Sadly, we seem to have lost that ability as we rush to attack anyone that thinks or acts differently.

America isn’t divided because of what President Trump tweets or because of what President Obama said.  America is divided because we are different and we refuse to acknowledge, challenge, or accept those differences.  Until we choose to begin talking and listening to each other, we will keep maintaining our divisions in spite of who we elect to be president of the United States.

I’ve spent a lot of time in a series of blogs on Charlottesville talking about how we can promote change in America but here are a few other practical things we can do to really work toward unity.

  1.  Stop Looking to The White House and Lead from Home.  The racial problems we are facing began when we brought the first enslaved Africans to America in 1619.  We didn’t inaugurate our first president until 1789. As I’ve stated before, our country’s legacy of slavery and racism is much older than our country’s legacy of freedom and democracy.  Blaming presidents past, present, and future will do little to bridge the racial gap in our country.  Sitting down with someone who doesn’t agree with your views will be much more productive.  By no means am I exonerating the White House from responsibility as it relates to race relations.  I am just not optimistic that the White House will be the place that we see racial healing.
  2. Recognize that your neighbor probably shares different views on subjects that are very personal to you, and that’s okay.  Go back and read over some of the statistics that I shared earlier.  It’s very possible that your neighbor, coworker, teammate, family member, or friend may agree with you in some of those areas and adamantly disagree with you in others.  Disagreement is not a bad thing until you refuse to respect it.  Have you ever met spouses that agreed on everything?  If their marriage has lasted, it is because they learned how to work together in spite of their disagreements. America can still learn to work together, in spite of its differences.
  3. Find something that you can agree upon and begin the conversation there.  It is has been interesting to listen to military veterans supporting the NFL players that want to take a knee, and then listening to other military veterans refusing to support the NFL players that want to take a knee.  Both groups are sharing the same reasons for their different opinions: they fought to protect the flag.  Rather than pit one group of veterans over another group, why not agree that both groups think the flag is worth fighting for? I know it is just a small point of agreement, but at least it is a point of agreement no matter how small it may be.
  4.  Try as much as possible to speak from your humanity first.  The truth is as much as we believe that race is real, it doesn’t exist. We come from one race, the human race. Our humanity is what is at stake-not our race. If we neglect our humanity to defend our politics, our religion, or our social positions, we will just continue to grow further and further apart. That’s not the America I want to leave my children and I’m certain you don’t either.

 

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