This New York Times article really needs no introduction. Roxane Gay has thoughtfully and exceptionally written in response to the recent murders of both Mr. Samuel DuBose and Cecil the Lion. The connections made are striking and leave no one untouched. I hope that her words contribute to our ongoing conversations on the social construct race and our common humanity. The full article can be found here.
The repeated incidents of police brutality have turned up the volume on conversations about race and racism. It is no longer whispered about as reporters cue recordings from body and dashboard board cameras of interactions, heightened altercations and ultimately the death of unarmed African American men and women. It is a news cycle that makes me sick when I look at it.
I might want to throw up this morning’s breakfast but I will not throw up my hands, give up or give in to apathy. No matter what is said, I will continue to talk about race and its demise. The judging of persons based on the social coloring of skin must come to and end.
Its prejudices do not make our streets safer as police officers are now charged with crimes of murder. Former University police officer Ray Tensing was charged with the senseless and unnecessary death of Mr. Samuel Dubose. Mr. DuBose was shot in the head after a traffic stop regarding a missing license plate.
Video footage recently released contradicts the testimony of Tensing who said that he felt his life was in danger when he killed Mr. DuBose. Viewers see for themselves that the conversation was polite and escalated only by Tensing. The camera captured the one who was really in danger and the cover up of the crime by fellow officers. Those two officers have been placed on paid administrative leave by the University.
The witnesses went along with the story. Whatever their reasons, they told the lie of prejudice and covered up the death of an innocent man. And this is where problem lies.
This not the time to be silent about what our belief in prejudice and what prejudice does. Why didn’t the fellow officers tell the truth? Why didn’t they confront Tensing and arrest him? Why must the truth be caught on camera because we can no longer trust the eyes or mouths of those who are suppose to protect and serve?
It is because race is considered a higher law, above the laws of decency and respect. But, I say that race needs to be challenged and shouted down. We need to speak up and complain about race and its progeny. And by this I don’t mean with lawsuits but in our relationships and interactions.
Persons who employ the lens of race need to be told that they are wrong, that this is not what happened, that people are innocent and can not be seen as guilty. Speak up.
The news reporting is the same. Same angles, views and I suspect that is the same pencil used to sketch and draw the same conclusions. The words used to describe race relations remains unchanged: allies and hate mongers, race cards and race baiting, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation. We reach conclusions that are the same as before. And no matter what is said or how often we say it, we agree that we need to talk about race.
But, we do talk about race and we do hear more about prejudice and racism. Now apart of the twenty- four hour news cycle, unsolicited and unfiltered YouTube commentary, hash tags and trending topics, there are many conversations being had. Consequently, the news about (suspected) race- related incidents is spreading and spreading quickly.
Because there is a smart phone in the room, persons may not tell racist jokes– even when behind closed doors. Dashboard cameras and private citizens videotaping police interactions also limit what is hidden behind the badge. We are seeing more of the personal, social and systemic works of race. Yet, we are not able to talk ourselves of it. Why is this?
I think that I have an idea. Now, this is just a theory. I don’t wear a lab coat and I have no experiments or lab rats, dead or alive, to support my findings. But, I believe we have created a prejudice about conversations about race and that once we hear the word race, we already hear what we have come to expect or experience.
What do we do about it? Stop making assumptions as to how the conversation will go. We cannot begin a conversations with conclusions as to how this is going to end.
Instead, start from beginning. Begin with introductions not assumptions. Learn their name and their story. Race is not personal and will not tell you about them.
We must also be aware of the prejudices that we bring to conversations about race. We must ask ourselves if we want to have a friendship or a fight. Be sure that the other person agrees to this end before you engage them.
Question yourself and your intentions. Have you worked through your issues with race in order to be ready for a cross- cultural conversation and relationship? Do you want a conversation or a verbal wrestling match? Do you want this interaction to win- lose or win- win? What is your goal, your aim for talking about race?
And begin to listen and hear what is being said in order to say something new. Conversations about race are defensive in nature. Removing the assumptions will allow us to lower our guard and allow a new perspective to enter. We not only need to stop and listen but we need to slow down and think.
Think our responses through and let them be for this moment and in this instance. We cannot tackle and should not take on hundred of years of history and millions of hurts in one sitting. Instead, let’s do something new. Let’s take it one day at time and one person at a time.
Christianity Today contributor Mark Galli writes about race and the gifts that the church brings to the conversation in an article titled “Hope in the Face of Intractable Racism.” Gall questions doubts we will ever be done with racism, challenging laws that intend to “eradicate all forms of racism” and suggesting that it will take more than this. Still, Galli concludes that we will “never rid ourselves of racism in this age, any more than we will rid ourselves of lust or pride.” He continues, “And yet this seeming cause for despair actually prevents despair. Just because we cannot eradicate racism doesn’t mean we have to succumb to its nasty expressions.”
I disagree with Galli because of this hope that we share. George Bernard Shaw believed, “Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” I couple this truth with that of Viktor Frankl who concluded, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” I have hope that I can change and thereby eradicate all forms of racism in me.
Rev. Todd Thomason serves as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hyattsville. He is a devoted husband and a caring dad of twin daughters. I suppose that the laughter has strengthened his prayer life dramatically. He offers a courageous and insightful reflection that I just couldn’t keep to myself. It would be selfish.
I pray that it would challenge you to live more deeply into the faith that we love and cherish in hopes of loving more like Christ.
Originally posted on Via Ex Machina:
On Tuesday, author and journalist Neely Tucker sat down with Kojo Nnambdi to discuss the release of Harper Lee’s new/old novel, Go Set a Watchman. I had seen the controversy over the characterization of Atticus Finch brewing online since the Wall Street Journal published the first chapter of Watchman last Friday. However, I was unfamiliar with the questionable circumstances surrounding the book’s release. Biographers, close friends, and serious fans of Harper Lee have known about Watchman’s existence for decades, according to Tucker. Yet, Tonja Carter, a lawyer from Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, AL, claimed to have “discovered” the “lost” manuscript when news about Watchman first broke. As the story goes, Carter showed the book to Lee, who enthusiastically endorsed its publication after all these years, even though the aged author suffers from impaired hearing and eyesight as well as the lingering effects of a recent stroke.
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Race hurts. Believing that I or you are a problem causes pain because people love people. This perspective suggests that the world is not perfect because of my presence or yours. And we spend much of our time together or apart talking about ways to rid ourselves of “you people.”
But, what if race is the problem? What if race is the one that is causing pain? Damaging our relationships? Once we locate the wound, will we have the courage to apply the pressure of love, to say what must be said in order for healing to occur?
If so, then here are just a few pointers as you prepare to talk about race in your relationships.
1. Don’t react. It is understood that there is pain. Try to remain calm. Instead, relate. We must seek not to prove the other person wrong but to understand why we continue to wrong each other. The goal is not to discuss the wound but to ensure that it is not repeated.
2. Lean in. Sit down with the sole purpose of listening intently. We need to know what happened in order to prevent the injury from happening again and to know what to do if it does. We have to have a plan in place with clear guidelines and support.
3. Maintain eye contact. Don’t look away or at the floor. Don’t shake your head when the other person is talking, disapproving or disagreeing before hearing the person’s perspective fully. In order to clean it thoroughly and close it completely, we must get a good look at it.
4. Touch it. Talk about it without the hindrance of history. It does not matter what has been said. What is most important is what we are saying and doing about race right now.
Race is a wound that has been open for hundreds of years. It has been infected time and time again. How much will we have to lose before we heal ourselves of it for good?
Race has the power to silence us. Whatever the reason- boredom, distraction, guilt, shame, ignorance, apathy or exhaustion- we stop talking about race. We change with the news cycle and move on to the next story. Because the conversation is so sad, so taxing, so difficult. It hurts too much. It’s scary. It will take too long. It won’t change anything.
We are full of excuses but we are tired of living with the problems of race. So, keep talking. Keep talking until you find the right words and become the right person to talk about race with.
“Being White in Philly” discusses the challenges socially colored white people have when they talk about race.
The discussion continues here at HuffPost Live.
The Washington Post ran a story after news broke regarding a noose hung outside a building at Duke that claims “We can talk about race without fighting or getting defensive, if we’re willing to learn how.”