Race, and Relations
August 1, 2016
by Kim Childs, CPPC
This summer, I was too horrified and sickened by the latest incidents of racially charged violence in America to comment on what I was seeing. As reactions flooded social media, I kept quiet because I didn’t know how anything I said could make any difference.
I waited for the right words to express what was in my heart, and finally one came: relationships.
I believe that relationships – as much as protests, civil disobedience and legislation – can heal racism. I believe this because I’ve seen it and lived it. And while I may not have the solution to our racial problems, I have my story.
Black lives have always mattered to me, from my playmates in kindergarten (where I was among the few white kids in class) to the friends I made as a child and teenager on Cape Cod, the colleagues and co-workers I befriended during my radio career in New York City and Newark, NJ, black women who became soul sisters, and the gospel musicians and African drummers I’ve played and sung with around Boston.
I can’t imagine my life without these people and relationships, and the rich gifts of black culture, music, literature, art, and politics that have colored and shaped who I am. Both reflect the kind of multicultural world I’m most happy living in.
I married a black African who never knew racism until he landed in this country to join me. I watched as formerly racist family members embraced and grew to love this noble, sweet and big-hearted man. I watched that big heart break as he experienced discrimination, humiliation, racial profiling by police on the roads and in white neighborhoods, and the pain of being excluded from his chosen profession by tradesmen who couldn’t see past his color, and foreignness.
Still, I know that my ex-husband opened minds and hearts by simply being the only black person that some Americans had ever had in their home, neighborhood, workplace, or family. He, in turn, has learned a great deal about other cultures from living here.
About 15 years ago, when the “lost boys” and girls of war-torn Sudan arrived in Boston, I saw a whole community of suburban white families take them in and begin to call them sons and daughters. I’m lucky to know these amazing, resilient “boys and girls,” who’ve gone on to raise families, earn degrees and forge career paths here. Meanwhile, their American “parents” beam with pride and love, becoming surrogate grandparents to a new generation of Sudanese-American babies.
The town I now live in is predominantly white, so I’m grateful to see people of color when they cross my path. I might make eye contact, smile, or ask the time, even when I could easily check my cell phone. I do it to engage and say, “I see you. Welcome.”
But there are also times when I watch myself choose to ask questions from the white person behind a desk or cash register, instead of the black, brown, or yellow one. I then ask myself what bias or stereotype I’m operating from, and challenge it.
And so I will keep examining my prejudices, cultivating relationships with people who are different from me, and educating myself. I invite you to do the same, as do Jeremy Adam Smith and Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, who say in this important article that, “We all carry prejudices within ourselves—and we all have the tools to keep them in check.” They offer these six ways to reform the racist inside all of us (which they call “implicit bias”):
- Consciously commit yourself to egalitarianism.
- But recognize that unconscious bias is no more “the real you” than your conscious values. You are both the unconscious and the conscious.
- Acknowledge differences, rather than pretend that you are ignoring them.
- Seek out friendship with people from different groups, in order to increase your brain’s familiarity with different people and expand your point of view.
- It’s natural to focus on how people are different from you, but try to consciously identify what qualities and goals you might have in common.
- When you encounter examples of unambiguous bias, speak out against them. Why? Because that helps create and reinforce a standard for yourself and the people around you, in addition to providing some help to those who are the targets of explicit and implicit prejudice.
“Those are steps you can take right now,” the authors say, “without waiting for the world to change.”
My local news channel recently reported that Boston police officers are deliberately developing relationships with community leaders, residents and teen empowerment groups in predominantly black neighborhoods to try and prevent the horror we’ve seen elsewhere in America.
I’m rooting for them all.
A few weeks ago my ex-husband was pulled over by a white police officer for exceeding the speed limit in a white community. Upon examining all the pertinent documents, the officer said, “It’s your birthday? Okay, I’m just gonna give you a warning this time. Happy birthday.” My ex-husband then proceeded to his new job at a predominantly white workplace, where he was surprised with a birthday card and gifts.
It was a good day in that corner of America.
Kim Childs, CPPC, is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, Creativity, and Midlife Transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule an initial consultation.