#Charlottesville was ugly, embarrassing, horrific, outrageous, disgusting, violent, racist, and yet very characteristic of the nature of our country. #Charlottesville is us and has been us for a very long time. Yet, we can change. We just have to decide if we want to. When I look at my sons and think about their future and the type of America they will inherit from me and my generation, I definitely want to create change. When they grow up and become men, I don’t want them grappling with images of white supremacist groups fully clothed in militia gear yelling “you will not replace us.” Likewise, I definitely don’t want them growing up having to convince other fellow Americans that their “black lives matter.” An entire generation of men and women braved the KKK, endured lynchings, Jim Crow, water hoses, the murder of loved ones and verbal and mental abuse so we could be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin and yet in 2017, we seem to be on the verge of repeating history.
One of the main reasons we are still dealing with the remnants of our past is that we are much more comfortable talking about the problem, blaming different groups for the problem, ignoring the problem, and hoping the problem just goes away. It’s so much easier to remain on the surface of the problem. And while we do those things, racism and prejudice persist. Dylan Roof was 21 when he went into Emanuel AME church and killed 9 people. James Smith, the guy who rammed his car into a crowd of people in Charlottesville, Virginia killing a woman and injuring several others, is 20. Racism and prejudice are not dying out. Instead its thriving and just coming of age.
Below are my first three considerations on how to counter the racism that seems so foundational to America. I have nine suggestions in total but to keep the blogs a reasonable length, I am only posting three at a time. These first three are personal. The next three are more public and the last three are collective. If you can commit to doing just one of them, we will all be much better off.
1. Deal with your own prejudice. Before you post or refer to the oft-used Dr. King quote, “…hate cannot drive out hate only love can do that,” commit to dealing with your own prejudice. All of us have to check our propensities to treat other groups differently. How do you really feel about black people? White people? Gay people? Transgender people? Latino people? Dark skinned people? Light skinned people? Poor people? Rich people? Take some time to really think about your thoughts towards other groups that are different from you? Do you truly see them as equals? If a Mexican family moved in across the street from you, how would you react? If you found out your son’s favorite teacher was gay, what would you do? If a white man wanted to marry your black daughter, how would you feel? If a black female pastor replaces your retiring white male pastor, would you remain a member? In your personal quiet time, ask yourself how you really feel about other groups and deal with your own answers. The only reason love drives out hate is because love requires truth. Without truth, love becomes tolerance and tolerance will never drive out hate. Tolerance only masks hate.
2. Deal with your fear. When the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished in America, new fears developed on each side of the color line. White people, particularly in the South where blacks were the vast majority in some states, feared retaliation. They also feared the loss of social, political and economic positioning that the free labor of slavery had helped afford them. To counter this fear, many laws and codes were enacted to make sure that freedmen would have to remain in subservient positions. For example, after slavery was abolished, it was illegal for freedmen to be educated, to assemble together in public without a white person present, and it was also unlawful for freedmen to have guns. (Please research Black Codes to learn more about these cruel laws). This fear is also why the KKK was established to help ensure that blacks remained in positions of inferiority and under threat of imprisonment, death, or violence. For newly freed blacks there were also fears that surfaced for obvious reasons. First, there was the internal challenge of dealing with freedom for the first time. Most freedmen had seen all of their ancestors die as slaves. They would be given the huge responsibility to live under their own constraints with little training, little education, few mentors, and hardly any financial support. Additionally, freedmen also lived with the fear of white supremacy. Lynchings were common. The KKK was rampant. State laws did not protect people of color and juries rarely if ever voted in favor of a black person. Although free in form, in practice many freedmen were still under invisible bondages and shackles to Jim Crow. These were two sets of fears for two different groups. For whites, the fear of retaliation and loss of position. For blacks, the fear of violence, imprisonment, and of always being in subservient positions. These fears arguably are still just as relevant in 2017. #Charlottesville illustrates that. The political rhetoric of today echoes that. Philando Castille’s murder with no conviction mirrors that. The fear of loss of self or position is so strong that it has blinded our country from realizing what we are capable of gaining if we would just look beyond our own skin tone. It is time each of us asked ourselves, “Why am I so afraid of that group of humans?” Why won’t I ask a person of the opposite race out on a date? Why do I refuse to greet the same sex couple that moved into my neighborhood? When the Arabic girl in my son’s school invited him to her birthday party, why did I make up an excuse to say no? What is so threatening about a black man walking down the street that I immediately clutch my purse and avoid making eye contact? Admittedly, this is difficult. I am asking you to be vulnerable. I am doing the same thing with my own fears. After watching the countless videos of 13-year old Tamir Rice gunned down by police for carrying a toy gun, after watching Sandra Bland be taken to jail for no real reason and finding out later that she died behind bars, after watching Philando die on video as his girlfriend tried to make sense of what had just happened, fear gripped me like a plague. I found myself unable to sleep until my husband, who leaves to go to work at 3:30 in the morning, had texted me to say he arrived safely. My mind was full of fearful scenarios of the police stopping him, questioning him, finding him to be a threat and shooting him. My fears were real, justifiable, and consuming me mentally and emotionally. They were also changing me and I found myself building up a wall of resentment toward police officers, white people, Donald Trump voters, America in general. That’s no way to live. Fear is consuming and most dangerous is that your children will pick up on those fears as well. I cannot say that all my fear has subsided as it relates to all these awful police shootings of unarmed black and brown bodies, but I am much better and I have learned not to let that fear control or dictate how I live my life. If you really want change, you will have to deal with your own fears first. Fear always causes us to make the wrong decisions and draw the wrong conclusions. Fear made people put white sheets over their faces and burn crosses in their neighbor’s yards. Fear got Rosa Parks arrested for sitting in the front of a bus and not in the back. Fear made people write Jackie Robinson angry hate letters for hitting a baseball in an all white league. Fear lashes out at Colin Kaepernick for being unpatriotic while the same fear kept black soldiers from receiving GI bills for housing and schooling after returning from serving their country in world wars. Lastly, fear makes good people remain silent on bad issues. It’s your choice to deal with your fears. Just know they are dealing with you.
3. Stop dismissing, belittling, excusing, and ignoring the impact of slavery on America past, present and future. The truth is slavery-not freedom-founded this country. Slaves fought in the Revolutionary War. Before America had gained its own freedom, it had been taking freedom away from others for over 100 years. Moreover, our first president, George Washington, owned over 300 slaves. Thomas Jefferson, our third president, owned over 600. Slavery didn’t just build the White House physically. It built the White House politically. It also shaped us religiously, socially, and economically. To dismiss over 250 years of slavery in a country that only just celebrated its 241st birthday is absurd. Our legacy of slavery is longer than our legacy of freedom. To deny that legacy and to ignore it is to do so at your own peril. We cannot heal what we won’t reveal. We cannot create a new foundation if we won’t acknowledge and than dismantle our old foundation. This is why #Charlottesville keeps happening. We must address the elephant in the room called slavery. You must personally take the time to understand the impact of taking a group of people (over 10 million) and stripping them from their homeland, their language, their religions, their culture, and their families. You must take the time to understand the racial relationships developed within our American ancestries…the stories of enslaved babies torn from their enslaved mother’s arms and those same enslaved mothers having to nurse white babies that would grow up to be their new masters and overseers. You must take the time to understand the impact of a newly freed black man trying to locate his two children that were sold down in Georgia, and the wife that was sold in Virginia so he could make a new home for them in North Carolina. You must take the time to understand how the Bible Belt was also the home of slavery; how good Christian people whipped their slaves Monday through Saturday, and preached to them on Sunday. Those pains, those contradictions are not easily broken. You do not just get over generational tragedies. Healing occurs when we face our past, not when we ignore it. Yes, not all white people owned slaves. Yes, not every black and brown person in America is a descendant of slaves. Yet, neither did everyone fight in the Revolutionary War, yet we all like to celebrate the Fourth of July. Being a true patriot is not just about acknowledging the good parts of American history. It also means acknowledging the bad parts of American history. #Charlottesville is us, largely because we have ignored the legacy of slavery and the racist foundation that it developed. We can change it, but we have to individually stop ignoring it and wishing it would just go away. Are you ready to face the past legacy of slavery so we can create a new future?
I look forward to taking this journey of change with you and sharing my own challenges and successes. In a few days, I will post three more ways we can reverse the effects of racism on our country. In the meantime, I hope you will share things that you are committing to do to make this country truly the land of the Free and the home of the Brave.
Remember, be the change you want to see. Our futures will either reproduce the past or create a new future. It’s your move. Choose wisely.