This semester, I am taking an elective psychology course on racial healing. It's a small class; there's maybe 10-12 students, plus three graduate TAs and a professor from the doctoral side of campus. We meet once a week to tackle the somewhat challenging topics of racism, racial identity and reconciliation, particularly in America.
Last week, we watched a portion of a documentary called "The Shadow of Hate" (much of which is available to watch on YouTube here). Watching it made me realize how often I pick the path of least resistance when it comes to stopping racism: reacting with the same surprise and disgust as everyone else when some overtly racist act occurs, feeling sympathy for those involved, wondering if I am unconsciously biased... all of which profits no one but myself.
I'll get this out early: the topic of race makes me pretty uncomfortable. I'm not a person that is okay with being angry, and the awareness that humankind has repeatedly used race to justify cruelty and domination makes me incredibly upset.
I cannot reconcile my identity as a peacemaker with the "heritage" I must accept as a white American. I cannot reconcile the message of Christ with the way Christianity has been used—by some, not all—in American history to justify segregation, distinction, and racial bias. I cannot learn about documented accounts of lynching, unjust trials, slavery, without wondering how those times of overt racism have been a subtle, subconscious influence on our 21st century American culture. As an individual, I feel innocent of racism; as a white person, I feel undeniably guilty.
There is more to my discomfort: I lived much of my life believing racism and racial prejudice were problems of the South—my experience in a rural, Pacific Northwest environment seemed far removed from all of that. After all, I was never taught to judge someone by their skin. I received the same message that our Constitution proudly proclaims: all are created equal.
But my experience was that of a white person growing up in a predominantly white area; I never thought to ask a person of color what they felt. A fortunate internship experience allowed me to hear entirely new stories: I heard a Hispanic American talk about how hard it was to pour time and effort into a community that did not seem to value her. I heard a woman of Native American heritage communicate the complicated mix of pride, bitterness and resignation she felt when considering the state of her people. I spent a semester attempting to broaden my perspective, reading books like Toni Morrison's Beloved and following social media threads where people of color expressed their thoughts on various events and societal trends. More and more I came to realize that I needed these people, needed these perspectives.
Yet I am still hesitant to write about this journey of mine; I am afraid that someone will read this and dismiss me. The fear that holds me back is a similar fear that people of color feel when their perspective, their fears, their problems, are dismissed. But running from this feeling would only prove how much I profit from having the majority perspective—the one where I get to shrug my shoulders and walk away from things that make me uncomfortable.
I am also afraid of saying the wrong thing; I am afraid that my attempts to bring more people into the conversation about racial reconciliation will backfire. I don't feel qualified to engage with this topic, but I do feel compelled to. All my fear is familiar to others; those who fear what they do not know, what they do not understand. But rather than allow fear to do what it does best – prevent healing, promote harm – I want to create a different pattern.
My true intent with this article was to talk about the value of Black History Month, and how to make the most of it; but I hope by now you understand that racial reconciliation requires more than passive interest. It requires active exploration, an open mind and a soft heart. It requires stepping outside of your own experience and stepping into a place of unfamiliarity and discomfort. Taking interest in Black History Month is one way I intend to start this process; I hope you'll join me.
Please remember: I am only one person, with a limited awareness of the resources and information out there. I am just starting my journey into engaging with the racial healing movement. But we all have to start somewhere! So, here are some resources and opportunities that I will be taking advantage of this month.
If you haven't read more than Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, I sincerely encourage you to invest in a collection of his speeches and letters. This is a good book to start with, but you can also find a lot of his works online. His faith-based, passionate comments on racism and segregation in America are both convicting and historically profound.
I mentioned Beloved by Toni Morrison earlier, and it is a truly incredible book. But be warned: there are a lot of graphic, adult themes in this book. It is not for the faint of heart, but has weighty power in describing the crippling effects of slavery throughout generations.
I am still working on reading more books, but here are some that have been recommended to me by others.
Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates
Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Thurston
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race - Beverly Daniel Tatum
I also mentioned "The Shadow of Hate" earlier, with a link to the video. This is an older documentary, but has a lot of information that I wasn't aware of. It inspired this article, so it seems appropriate to include it.
In celebration of Black History Month, YouTube is spotlighting content creators who are contributing to Black history; their spotlight channel has a playlist called "Black Firsts" which includes all kinds of videos that may interest you. They will also be posting stories each day, from my understanding.
This is fairly self explanatory, but I've included some articles I found with interesting information and resources for Black History Month.
Do you have other resources or information that would be helpful? Please share! We all benefit from learning more, and I personally would love to continue expanding my understanding.