Congress must promote racial healing — this proven community method offers a blueprint
When you’ve lived as a black woman in America for as long as I have, you can feel racial injustice building toward explosion, like electricity in the air before a lightning strike. 2020 is one of those times. But fortunately, the U.S. House has a new proposal to promote deep racial healing–one based on a proven community method.
I helped develop that method back in 2016, another year of racial strife. At the time, I was vice president of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, one of the world’s largest philanthropies. I watched as the mainstreaming of racism in America during the Obama presidency culminated in the triumph of a nativist presidential campaign.
I’d spent my career developing solutions for the downstream effects of racial injustice, but I realized our nation had yet to truly tackle what was polluting us from upstream: America’s deeply ingrained and often unconscious belief in a hierarchy of human value. It is the myth that built America, fueling unfettered land confiscation from Native Americans and unprecedented enslavement of Africans.
To jettison that belief, we developed the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) process with the input of more than 150 experts and 40 community groups. Since then, two dozen college campuses and 14 communities, from Dallas to Alaska, have created their own TRHT processes, and the results have been tremendous: greater community cohesion, more diverse voices, and events that promote healing.
To scale the TRHT framework, and in response to this year of extraordinary unrest, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) sponsored last week a House Resolution [H.CON.RES. 100] urging the creation of a U.S. Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation. This not only empowers us to take the TRHT movement nationwide, it satisfies a core truth: changing beliefs must go hand in hand with changing laws; if you do one without the other, you’ll find history repeating itself.
2020 has felt like a repeat of America’s worst moments. First, during the pandemic, the country’s original indifference to black and brown life and exploitation of black and brown labor felt achingly present, as people of color were more likely to be essential workers and thus exposed to the deadly coronavirus. That injustice and grief charged the air. Then came the lightening: video of George Floyd being suffocated to death by an officer of the law.
All communities have suffered under the system that expresses a hierarchy of human value, which is why so many white Americans have taken to the streets in recent days. The U.S. TRHT Commission was introduced by a multiracial group of congresspeople and would bring together African American, Latinx, Native American, and diverse religious and cultural coalitions in Congress together into one body to shape policies that benefit all.
On the ground, TRHT processes have already invited thousands of Americans to come together to unearth their community’s racial history and envision a future free from racism. It poses questions such as, what educational opportunity will your grandchildren experience without racial hierarchy embedded in our school system? What will policing be like if nobody has the desire to value and fear people based on what they look like? When communities see the distance between where we are now and that vision, they can commit whole-heartedly to the policies needed to transform.
By taking the framework nationwide, the commission has greater potential to promote racial healing than any federal action in recent memory. It would give all Americans the opportunity to acknowledge the inequities of the past and their persistence today. It can’t be short term, and it can’t lead solely to a report; it must live on in communities.
The unprecedented scale of the last week’s protests show that Americans in every state, in small towns and big cities, are ready to build something new. Only when they are empowered to do so can we start to envision a healed and shared future together as one America — not as red or blue, but as a truly reconstructed America that values all equally.
Lee and her colleagues have taken the brave step of introducing the resolution, and now the House and Senate must pass it, in order to, in the words of the resolution, “properly acknowledge, memorialize, and be a catalyst for progress toward jettisoning the belief in a hierarchy of human value, embracing our common humanity, and permanently eliminating persistent racial inequities.”
This would put America on a true journey of healing. It’s the only way to make the lightning stop.
Gail C. Christopher, Ph.D., is a race relations expert and the architect of the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) framework. She previously served as executive director of the Institute for Government Innovation at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.