Navigating the Racial Highway in America

By James Ewers

jewers1If you want to have a good debate or scare people away, then start talking about race.  The ‘race’ word is a powerful one in America’s lexicon and seems to bring out passionate feelings in us. It is a catalyst for both change and status quo. It is my thinking that the word race has brought into context words such as diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion, just to name a few. Many in this country would say that we are simply hung up on race. However, I think our racial healing, or hemorrhaging, is generational. Finally, it seems, young people are not as race-conscious as previous generations, although some may disagree with this statement. What makes the color of a person’s skin the object of so much attention and speculation? Why do some of us base our perceptions about a person solely on their skin color? As we all know, a person’s ability is not based on their skin color but on their competence and cognition. Yet, unfortunately, there are those who will go to their grave thinking otherwise. The uneasiness about race is felt on both sides. Many of our positions and mores about race come from our own experiences. Some of these feelings about race cannot be altered or changed regardless of how many diversity training programs we attend.

Some of our differences as black and white people are quite striking, most notably our responses to race.  I have both black and white friends, and my life is better because of it. But there have been incidents in this country involving race that have elicited such divergent responses I sometimes wonder, “are we looking at the same thing?” So we see things through different lens. There is also an extreme view held by each side about race relations. Some blacks and whites see their own race as the good guys and the other race as the bad guys. I disagree with this view, yet you would be naïve to think that it doesn’t exist.

Race is a slippery slope. Racial attitudes and positions seem to always follow us. Race never takes a break and is like the famous convenience store; it is always open. If you recall just a month ago now a white woman in Pennsylvania alleged that a black man had kidnapped her. We later found out that she was at Disney World. More recently a group of black children were asked to leave a swimming pool for reasons shrouded in race. Both incidents involved race and bad behavior.

So now just a few weeks ago, there was the incident involving Henry Louis Gates, Jr. the Harvard professor. Reports said that Professor Gates, who is black, had trouble getting into his house. He did get into his house yet by this time the Cambridge, Mass., police had arrived because of a 911 call placed by a local citizen. The police tape of the call never mentioned race, however the police report did. Officer James Crowley, who is white, and Professor Gates had a heated exchange even after Gates showed he was the owner of the home. Professor Gates was taken to the police station in handcuffs. However, throughout all of this we cannot forget that the police are there to protect and to serve whether it is in Cambridge or any other part of the country. Yet I wonder why the police could not have left Gates’ home once proper identity had been established. Because race is so explosive an issue, President Obama having a news conference on health care and other important matters was asked about the incident. President Obama, in my opinion and later by his own admission, used inappropriate language in responding to the reporter’s question. The three men, President Obama, Officer Crowley and Professor Gates met recently at the White House to hash out their differences and hopefully bring some constructive focus to the issue of race.

A lot of Americans are waiting to see if there is a blue print on how to talk about race. Fortunately, many communities have already started the conversation. It is my opinion that the rules of engagement ought to center around honesty, forthrightness and recognition of the need to get it out in the open.

Race and all of its complexities will not go away. If we want our communities to become better then we must be proactive in talking about our differences. Communities that understand each other better will prosper. Those that don’t won’t.

 James B. Ewers, Jr. Ed.D is a higher education consultant and the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.

 

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4 responses to “Navigating the Racial Highway in America

  1. Where do you stand on this issue, and what recommendations you have as to how this discussion can be furthered aside from honesty and knowing it needs to be addressed?
    I see this issue not so much as a black/white issue but as a liberal/conservative issue. The conservatives i know do not necessarily see the differences you refer to, as they were raised in a society with much less systemic racism as their predecessors. But they are still inundated with racial commentary and concerns from the liberal media explaining that things are still so bad and divisive. I think its baloney.
    My thoughts are that if we want to have a fair debate on race, the liberal folks need to stop wailing racism and name calling at the drop of a hat when anyone mentions something they either disagree with, or a truth they don’t want to realize.
    Until a white commentator can ask a tough question to a minority person about a minority issue without fear of being labeled a racist/bigot/xenophobe etc, our communities will remain the way they are.

  2. “Race” and “white racism” is about white supremacy and the institutions and systems that maintain the white status quo and white superiority/white privilege.

    It is not about white and black people “getting to know each other” or “hashing out our differences over a beer” with President Obama.

    Certainly, we cannot be so naive as to forget that blacks and whites have always “known” each other.

    In the Deep, segregated South, blacks and whites lived next door to each other. Black women cleaned white women’s kitchens, raised their white children, and even nursed white infants at the black woman’s breasts.

    Black domestics were considered just like “part of the family,” yet this did not stop those blacks from racism, segregation, or nightly raids by the KKK, most of which was condoned by their pseudo white “family members.”

    Even today, blacks and whites work side by side, eat at the same restaurants and often live in the same neighborhoods, yet, we do not know or trust each other. What is disguised as racial acceptance, is little more than tolerance.

    Unfortunately, most blacks fail to see the difference, but I suspect most whites know exactly what I’m talking about…

    Bottom line: It is impossible to trust someone you cannot be honest with.

    It impossible to trust or respect someone who pretends you are not being mistreated even when it is happening right in front of them.

    And it is impossible to respect or trust anyone who is being mistreated, and instead of fighting back, smiles and grins and pretends it is not happening to them.

    There is no trust and respect between Black America and White America. Nor should there be because there is NO HONESTY.

    Having “a beer with Obama” is not a solution to anything, let alone white racism. It is simply an attempt by yet another black man to appease White America by pretending white racism doesn’t not exist, and that the conflict between Gates and the white cop was just a “misunderstanding” that can be settled over a beer in front of a dozen TV cameras.

    If anyone is so naive as to think the white cop is going to suddenly see black men in a “new light” because he had a beer with two black men he cares nothing about, I have a toll bridge and a few parking meters I’d like to sell you…

  3. Paul H hitton the button on the nose. Now let’s talk honesly about a subject that makes most whites uncomfortable. HB

  4. Don,

    The truth is always more painful than a lie, which is why lies are more common than the truth, and why most (or all) politicians get elected based on who can tell the best and nicest-sounding LIE.

    And this love of the good-sounding and good-feeling lie is why we cannot have an honest discussion about racism.

    Carl Jung, the so-called father of modern psychotherapy, put a cap on it when he said, “The foundation of all mental illness is the avoidance of legitimate suffering.”

    The avoidance of truth about white racism (which is painful) has put this nation at risk of being destroyed by the most deadly mental illness on the planet: racism/white supremacy.

    There’s a new book, “Trojan Horse: Death of a Dark Nation,” that I’d suggest everyone read if they want to understand how racism/white supremacy works. (I happened across a copy, and no, I’m not plugging the book, I just think it’s worthwhile). The authors told me the Search Inside on Amazon should be ready in a week.

    Just food for thought…

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