It sounds so simple, but is it?
It sounds so simple: “We are all a part of one race – the human race.”
Yet the reality of that statement – declared more than a century ago by pioneering anthropologist Franz Boas and again in 1950 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – is complicated in our nation, where the undercurrent of systematic racism pulls us down. Living daily in an environment where racism abounds makes it difficult to accept that “race” is not a biological reality but a myth.
When we consider racism (a form of oppression in which one racial group dominates others), which can lead to discrimination – the unfair and unequal treatment of a group based on prejudice – a natural progression is to apply the attitudes that lead to the mistreatment of Native-Americans and African-Americans to other “isms” (sex-ism, age-ism, class-ism, weight-ism, etc.) and phobias, like Islamophobia and homophobia.
It is difficult for me to believe that any of the phobias or “isms” can be resolved until we deal with the elephant in the room – racism.
Racism – the elephant in the room
For the past 500 years, we have been taught that things like intelligence, sexual behavior, birth-rates, child care, abilities, work ethics, personal restraint, law-abidingness, aggression, altruism, and even brain size are related to race. We have been told that some races are better than others.
The truth is, we live in a racist society – a society where your job or profession, where you live, where you go to school, who you interact with, how people interact with you, how you are treated in the healthcare and justice systems are all affected by your race. This racial structure persists, despite the fact that scientists have shown for decades that there is no evidence of “racial” characteristics.
Still, what we have been taught has led to major injustices to Jews and non-Christians during the Spanish Inquisition; to Native Americans and others during colonial times; to African-Americans during slavery and reconstruction; to Jews and other Europeans during the reign of the Nazis in Germany; and to groups from Latin America and the Middle East; African-Americans; Native-Americans; and others, during modern political times.
How do we dismantle centuries-old attitudes and beliefs that race or skin color makes some groups inferior to others in humanity? I suggest that it will be a long, slow process that must begin with building trust via conversations that can lead to the development of relationships and to bridge-building over the racial divide that exists in our country.
It’s time for a genuine conversation about race
As uncomfortable as it might be, we have to discuss race and get beyond the notion that by talking about it, we somehow perpetuate it. The truth is that, collectively, we have NEVER had a genuine conversation about race.
We must start with the conversation to begin building trust. We need to take a look at our personal social networks and ask ourselves, “does everyone in this circle look like me?” Then, we need to answer the question: “why or why not?” From there, we can begin to face our own reality of how race has shaped us and make an honest decision about who we are; who we are meant to be; and how we can reconcile the two.
In other words, (borrowing the title of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last book): “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” Standing on his commitment to nonviolence, King continually pleaded for a coalition of blacks and whites to work toward building community.
Starting the conversation in Akron, OH
For the past year, the Dominican Sisters of Peace and Associates in the greater Akron, OH, area have been working to build community via a series called “Building Racial Harmony.” The goal of the initiative is twofold – to be a host of conversations and to be a center of prayer. To that end, the Racial Justice Committee has organized and planned events at the Dominican Sisters of Peace Akron Motherhouse that include speakers, panel discussions, and prayer services.
Our hope in Northeast Ohio is that participants will share their divergent life histories, stories, and worldviews and become more appreciative and understanding of each other as human beings.
Racism springs from the lie that certain human beings are less than fully human. It’s a self-centered falsehood that corrupts our minds into believing we are right to treat others as we would not want to be treated… ~ Alveda King