Discussing Racial Tension In The US
Constructive Conversations Start By Acknowledging Our Tendencies: Discussing Racial Tension In The US
I think it is important to acknowledge that my point of view on race relations in the US is limited. As a white, American, middle-class, female college student, my perspective, and experience is different from that of a police officer or middle-aged black man. However, my hope is that my perspective will encourage further discussion and reconciliation.
I was in Peru when I read about the most recent shootings of young black men by police officers. Watching a video caught on a witness’ phone was appalling. My Facebook feed filled with rants, calls for justice, videos, statistics, and comments. Articles from opposing viewpoints presented different pictures of what the violence meant and how we should respond. The nation didn’t have time to take a breath before five Dallas officers were murdered in response.
As I observed from Peru, I noticed patterns in my own thoughts, conversations, Facebook posts, and news stories. We simultaneously over-simplify and over-complicate the issue of racial tension. Our conversations will be more constructive, and our responses wiser, if we are willing to acknowledge our tendencies to do the following:
- Skipping empathy: Could we start our conversations by agreeing that every death is awful and remembering the friends and family of those hurt and killed?
- Ignoring or downplaying our nation’s history and consequences of racism The Civil Rights Act passed only 52 years ago. Roughly 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all persons held as slaves to be free. Racism has deeper roots in our nation than we want to admit: the disproportionate number of African-Americans living in poverty, having abortions, and receiving welfare point to socio-economic consequences of past and present repression. If we are unwilling to take our recent history into consideration, we will miss an important piece of the larger picture of race relations.
- Quoting numbers with little regard to the whole picture Information is important for establishing fact and understanding problems, but statistics are often quoted out of context. Reality is usually much more complicated. Take, for example, three quotes from an article by the Chicago Tribune:
- “…black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.”
- “…it is true that a disproportionate amount of murders and other violent crimes are committed by black Americans.”
- “…police reform advocates and researchers as well at The Post’s own analysis has consistently concluded that there is no correlation between violent crime and who is killed by police officers.”
Standing alone, each quote tells a different story. We have to pause before asserting “facts” that over-simplify reality.
- Forgetting that each person’s experience is unique We can’t discuss racism with others, including those of own race, thinking they have the same perspective and experiences as we do. They don’t. We will either not ask because of our assumptions, or listen without truly hearing them.
- Forgetting to look in the mirror It is human nature to talk about issues such as race relations in an impersonal way. We prefer to disassociate ourselves from racism because a more personal approach might force us to admit our prejudices, remember painful experiences, and make us feel responsible for change. Humble listeners are aware of their own biases and assumptions, and are able to have constructive discussions that go beyond fact and opinion.
- Assuming that change means government overhaul Our first response might be to demand resolution via government regulations. However, the most effective change happens when individuals choose to take action. If we complicate the process of reconciliation by creating more hoops to jump through, we can take the emphasis off of what really matters: genuine regard for what is right, and a unique response for each community.
There is no way to approach the topic of race relations in our nation perfectly, but recognizing the complexity of the issue is a start. Join me in being a part of the conversation.