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Invitation to a Deeper Conversation: Racism, Trauma and Change

In the midst of the Covid pandemic, we have a pandemic of another sort, and both are arising to instill healing. Can the be an opportunity for a conversation about what is going on in our world, our country, and ourselves?



I’ll be the first to say, I’m a white woman – I do not know what it’s like to live as a black person in America – I am ignorant. But I’m open to know more, and I want to encourage conversation, education, and empathy. When there’s external chaos, we have to look inside first.


According to Ibram X. Kendi  America's leading racism scholar, professor and, and New York Times bestselling author of How to be an Anti-Racist, "A racist is someone who is expressing racist ideas or supporting racist policies with their action or inaction." The inaction part is important to note.


Many racists do not know they are racists and many would say they are not racist. There is often an unconscious bias, and it can play out in deeply traumatic ways.


Kendi states that, "It is dangerous to be black in America because racist Americans see blacks as dangerous." We see it again and again: whether a person is going for a jog, birdwatching, driving in their car, they can be accused, accosted, and killed – this is happening.


My sister lives in a nice neighborhood near San Diego, her Black neighbor does not like to drive in his car alone; it is much safer for him to have his child with him. He feels safer, he feels seen in a different way.


We’re talking about perception - built-in prejudices, whether conscious or unconscious.


I have a friend who lives in Palo Alto, CA. For over 20 years, she was never stopped by the police. She had a black houseguest there for 3 months. He was stopped 5 times.


Another friend lives in Bend, Oregon, where the west side is very open-minded and the east side has a lot of generational prejudice. In her kid’s school, one of the other mom’s said that her son likes to go “n*****-knocking” after school.  I asked what’s that? It’s ringing the doorbells of a Black person’s house and running away. And this mom thought it was normal. She was raised to think it was normal.  It's in the air. There is a chapter of the Klu Klux Clan, just outside of Bend, Oregon. This is a relatively small city, with immense polarities.


Kendi states: "A racist idea connotes racial hierarchy, an anti-racist idea connotes racial equality. if a racist policy is leading to racial inequity or injustice, then by contrast an anti-racial policy leads to equity or justice." 


Policy is an important factor. Let’s take a quick look at the history for some context:

  • 1619 - people were kidnapped and brought to a new land against their wills to be forced into slavery. This continued for over 200 years. Then:


  • 1865- The 13th Amendment got rid of slavery on a constitutional level, but it could not get rid of the underlying racism.


  • After the 12 years of reconstruction, the “black code laws” were passed which was the beginning of segregation, forced low wages, and restriction of freedoms: institutionalized bigotry, trauma, and terrorism.


  • The Klu Klux Klan spread. In later years, the Klan directed its activity against not just blacks, but immigrants, Jews, and Roman Catholics. Hate is spreading.


  • Then there's a bright spot. Think of 3 legs on a stool.


  • 1. 1964 - the Civil Rights Act dismantled segregation


  • 2. 1965 - the Voting Rights Act passed, so blacks could vote.


  • 3. But, the third leg on the stool was and is still missing and that’s the economic gap, that was not supported by policy change. 


  • 1968 - Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.


  • Other factors are important as well. Because the quality of education is based on neighborhood taxes,  a large percentage of black neighborhoods did not have the funds to give their kids the same quality of education as more economically affluent communities. If kids don’t know how to read by the age of 8, their chances of going to college are dramatically lowered. That in itself sets off a chain.


  • In our justice system, unarmed black men are regularly suspected and arrested. A black person will get 20% longer in prison than a white person. Our prisons are bursting with 2.3 million people - how is that helping?.


There is a history of generational trauma that we need to acknowledge. And when institutional remedies are not on the table, then frustration inevitably will escalate.


Protesting itself is not a bad thing if it's done in an intentional and kind and peaceful way. Gandhi, the suffragettes, Martin Luther King, used this way to effect social change. Obama just said, "We should all be thankful for folks who are willing, in a peaceful, disciplined way, to be out there making a difference."


Even though some bad actors tried to stir up violence, there is a conversation to be had here, and it starts with our own self-reflection, and values, conversations and through mindfulness, EDUCATION, through COMPASSION and through EMPATHY.


What if time in history is a wakeup call to our higher values, or as Lincoln put it the "Angels of our Better Nature"?


Individual education, commitment, acts of kindness and compassion can influence your family, your community, and your workplace. When we connect with another human being and look for the humanity we all share, no matter the color of skin we are wearing, we grow closer.


This can be done, in small acts of kindness and recognition that grow and expand and inspire others to do the same. How did we see an end to apartheid? Positive change is possible. 


No one is born hating another person because of the color of his (or her) skin,  background, or religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela


Let's look inside, reflect on how to live into our higher ideals, and put it into action. Let's open up the conversation, and open our hearts. It's clearly time for healing; it's clearly time for a change.






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