Racial Healing and Why Focusing on It Doesn't Help

Mandatory watching in schools and completely historically inaccurate.
Whether during black history month or the recent remembrance of the emancipation proclamation, our nation likes to focus on the racist elements of our history. And many, particularly those in University settings, pivot from telling of a racist history to speaking of "structural racism" that still remains. They point to gaps in achievement, incarceration, and wealth and argue that this is due either to the dark history of racism and Jim Crow or due to ongoing unstated racism.

There is rarely a single solution provided to fix the problem. Some point to police reform. Some point to reparations. Some point to whites "checking their privilege" (whatever that means). But the primary response to the problem seems to me to be one of ongoing apologies. We commemorate Martin Luther King's birthday. We commemorate various aspects of slavery. We show our kids "Roots." Many straight up apologize for being white. Many Christian denominations have issued apologies and roadmaps to racial reconciliation.

It seems that whatever the solution to racial divides are, everyone agrees that lots of talking about it will help.

But I disagree.

Three things can happen when we focus on race:
1) Things can get better
2) Things can stay the same
3) Things can get worse

There are a lot of people who assume that the way to fix race relations in America is to focus on them. I disagree completely. Focusing on race makes things worse by giving people the idea that every slight is probably due to racism.

When I was a kid, my family were vegetarians. And we were overweight. And we had weird names. My name was Lewis Ungit and my siblings had similarly unusual names. We were also poor and wore old clothes, cheap shoes and drove broken down cars. I had a twisted front tooth that I was always self conscience about.  As I grew up, I always felt like an outsider. In my mind, my outsider status was inherent to being a Ungit. Ungits did not fit in. So, if I was picked last on a sports team, I assumed it was because I was a Ungit. If other guys got girlfriends and I did not, it was because I was a Ungit. If the teacher didn’t like me, it was because I was a Ungit. This was my mindset for most of my childhood and even the first few years of my adulthood. But then I realized something that changed the way I viewed life. I realized that many people experienced similar things. Many people are picked last. Many kids are not super popular. Many people are not liked by teachers. Many people feel like outsiders. And it is not because they are Ungits. In fact, it many of the things that I thought made me an outsider actually could, at least in theory, be endearing and draw others to me. 

Assuming that everyone dislikes you because of something fundamental to your nature (your family, ethnicity, or race) makes you sort of neurotic. 

And when we tell people that white people are subconsciously racist. That there is structural racism. That the whole history of the USA was built on racism.... When we tell people these things, we are doing to them what many do to themselves, we are suggesting that every bad thing that comes their way very well may be the result of racism. 

I remember hearing a black woman tell a story about being at a party. A man (white) came in and went around the room talking to people, shaking hands and saying hi. Right before he got to her, he stopped. She was the one person he did not greet. She acknowledged that this probably was not due to racism. He probably got distracted or thought he already said hi. There are countless reasons for this. I can personally remember similar slights happening to me. But she noted, in telling her story, that she could not help but consider racism as a possibility. 

And I can see why. If you have been told your whole life that the country has a racist past and that most people are still racist on some level, it would be hard not to think in those terms. Imagine growing up and being told that you were in a system that was always against you (and the date can even be named 1619) and the system is still against you. There is an unconscious hatred for you in almost all people.How in the world is that healthy? What are we doing? Why in the world would we tell people that and somehow think that we are causing good to happen?

As I got older, I realized that my whole concern that people did not like me because I was an Ungit was ridiculous. I realized that everyone gets slighted. No one fits in all the time. Everyone feels like a loser some times. Everyone gets treated badly from time to time. Some of the blame for my problems was my own. I realized I needed to work harder to fit in and work harder on my social skills. Some of the blame was just finding the right people to hang out with (a bigger town helped). No one connects with everyone and everyone will feel out of place in some crowds.  None of this had to do with anything inherent in me. It was not my family, ethnicity, or race, that was the problem. I am glad I learned that lesson. 

Not sure I would have learned it though if everyone in the whole country was telling me that it was indeed because I was an Ungit and that there was structural hatred for Ungits in society. Pretty sure I would be neurotic if that is what society told me. 

And that is what society tells people when we tell the history of our nation in racial terms and suggest that racism is prevalent and structural in society to this day. 

I think that as a society, the best way to find healing from a racial perspective, is to focus LESS on race not more.


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