When will we get the courage to confront racism in our communities and the commitment to really do something about it? Until race relations become as much a part of the local and national dialogue as sports, the weather, or other things we talk about on a daily basis, we will forever be content to just show outrage as ugly incidents continue to occur.
Within two months, we have had two very high profile murders where race and racism seem to have been the motivation for the crime or played a role in its occurrence. First, it was the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, which is still the center of demonstrations, hearings, and television talk shows.
Whether racial profiling, brandishing want-to-be police power, raw testosterone unleashed, or a combination thereof, the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman incident and its aftermath implore more questions that need honest and open discussion if we are to move beyond the labeling and stop falling into the same old perennial cycle of accusation and denial.
Then, just last week we had the wanton killing of a Muslim mother of five in California. The killer or killers left a calling card imploring the family to get out of America.
And, have we forgotten the senseless killing of a black man in Mississippi who happened to be walking to a convenience store when he was beaten and run over by a pick-up truck driven by white teens that were looking to kill a “Nigger.” They found an innocent unsuspecting black man, and killed him.
But, what about all the low profile incidents, those that do not make national news, that occur on a daily basis in communities all across America, involving people of all racial and ethnic groups?
An overriding question: Why do we continually avoid confronting matters of race when they are such a part of our daily lives — in blatant and subliminal ways?
Until we are willing to take inventory on an individual, group, and societal level, of all those factors — factual and fictional — that shape our attitudes and actions as we interact with others who are different from ourselves, race will continue to be a divisive and destructive force.
Incidents that would otherwise be considered as everyday encounters and common conflicts take on a life of their own, fueled by the stereotypes and labels that we hang on to and allow to order our worldview. Do we care whether they are accurate or inaccurate? Are we afraid to examine their veracity, for fear it might lead us out of our comfort zone, shatter the monochromatic world to which we predictably retreat?
Do we really believe we have more to gain by remaining cloistered and close-minded than seeking the truth about others unlike ourselves? What about the enlightenment and richness that awaits us if we break through the blinders of racial bigotry on all sides?
How many more killings and ugly incidents will it take for us to finally get to the heart of the matter: Stop jumping the gun, stop over- or under- reacting, stop retreating or raging, stop denying or over-compensating, stop being reticent or overly eager — just stop the extremes when it comes to race. Until our extreme reactions cease, normalcy, in all its meaning, will continue to elude us as a society.
But how do we get there? Who owns the conversations and actions to bring about meaningful change? We all do.
Wouldn’t it be grand if communities all across America held townhall meetings and forums on racial issues just as they do on educational issues, taxes, and other public policies?
Wouldn’t it be grand if the morning and evening news shows had a daily and regular segment in their programming on race relations right along with the segments on sports or the weather? Shouldn’t matters of race be just as important?
Real improvement in race relations begins and grows with how we think, act, and react in our daily encounters.
Until racial diversity is as normal and as American as apple pie, we have a long way to go, and we need to be vigilant about it with every opportunity and in every aspect of our daily lives.