White Americans need to be part of the race discussion
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I didn’t start racism, but I have not done enough to end it. For that I am sorry, but luckily with understanding, with effort, with compassion, we can each do our part.

The racial divide in this country bleeds into everything from our current frustrations to our history. This is an anguish and anger deeper than partisan politics. It’s a tyranny of the heart that won’t shed itself to freedom.

Our equality has always been a truism, but a failed reality. Yet, in our times of anger and pain, we lash out at those against us, and when there is a group to target, we often latch on because we are afraid to face our own inadequacies.

Blood runs in the streets while we let hatred blind our hearts. Rather than have a moment to heal, the scabs and scars are constantly torn open with a new issue of racial injustice.

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As a white American, I recognize this in myself. It’s a learned trait, certainly not instinct. It creeps in when anger or frustration has taken hold, much like the times other betrayals of our character seep in. Perhaps it’s the sly comfort of sameness that makes me a little less afraid of a gun-toting redneck than an armed African American in downtown Atlanta. I scold myself when I tense up more when a black homeless man asks me for money versus a haggardly dressed white man. I hate that one of my first reactions has been to bring race into the discussion when dialogue comes to police shootings of unarmed suspects.

I am fortunate that I have come to know many great African American men and women, who have shaped my perception and challenged my underlying bias. Without them, I worry that my instincts would have become habits; habits that quickly became character.

For many these examples occur infrequently. For some, racism is a cancer slowly eating at the cellular fabric of their humanity. For the many, there is dire prayer for healing. Society has progressed and mended many of our hearts, but anger lingers and rears its head at our worst times.

It’s a dichotomy that many of us have faced and will continue to face. We can stand next to a person of a different race at a ballgame and cheer together. Yet, in our homes, we privately condemn Colin Kaepernick for protesting racial injustice. We pray for healing in this country at our churches, but are reluctant to make inroads between white and black churches.

The fact that there is context for separate black and white churches in our society reflects a segregation that must be extinguished. Certainly, the issues that bring us before God sometimes are different, but we stand the same under Him.

Where do we go from here? How can our hearts change?

Learning to speak to one another and create open forums for dialogue and making the effort to learn about someone who looks different from us everyday are necessities.

Many times, there is a dialogue barrier when much of our national tension has devolved into national turmoil. It’s time to communicate better. Our desire for change needs to reflect our compassion for one another versus our contempt.  Our speech on college campuses, on social media, and to each other must spell out our curiosity for learning instead of shouting down those we don’t understand. Our giving to those that lack privilege and opportunity needs to reflect our willingness to sacrifice for one another rather than our selfishness and condemnation of other’s choices.

It’s difficult to go out of our comfort zones. However, it is the only way of healing, learning, and growing. When we reside in our social media and friendship echo chambers, we lose sight of our collective humanity. America lauds itself as a melting pot full of rich culture and innovative people. If we stay in our safe space, we stifle our collective creativity, and we freshen the wound on our racial strife. Seeking out these opportunities may be as simple as paying a visit to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C., attending a church different than your own, or even as simple as reading a different author than you usually read. Slowly, but surely, we will heal.

Only in our humility, only in striving for understanding our fellow American can we begin to heal as a nation.

Grant is a lawyer in New York. He is a graduate of University of Virginia School of Law and Washington and Lee University. Follow him on Twitter @tygreggrant


 

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