Recently sat in my office and listened to client make a statement that stunned me. Let me preface that this client has been in my home, is aware of my family’s composure as multi-racial and is a “professional”. This client is seasoned, aged and experienced in life and corporate America at more than 60 years old. As we approached strategy surrounding the business concept the need for an employee application process began. The initial statement by the client was shocking at best! The client asked how an applicant’s race could be asked on the application and not cause legal problems. The client refused to hire “colored men” because, in the client’s own words, “We all know when you encounter a colored man in this situation, something bad is going to happen.”
WHAT? Are we professional? Is it 1865, 1965, what year is it? I thought the stereotypical racism element in America was supposed to be dead? (At least that what people like to say in order to feel better) I guess not!
Fast-forward this past week to the shootings in Charleston. The shooter was 21 years old. His clear racial motives came from a place of hatred, ignorance and desperation.
Recent racial incidents involving police engage a generation in the middle. Men and women in their 30’s and 40’s.
The responses filled with anger of Whites to Blacks and Blacks to White are just a symptom that we still have a long way to go.
I have watched lately as the ugly face of racism is exposed across many generations of people. The Boomer, Gen X and Millennial generations are not exempt or devoid of it.
To believe that racism is a thing of the past is just plain wrong. It is the past, the present and, I fear if we never learn, a thing of the future. It is deeply engrained in our culture, our psyche and our linguistics. It may not be abject, flamboyant and harsh for most. But, it is alive and well.
How do I know?
I have 3 White Children and 2 Black children. When we go out in public people are intrigued by our family’s composure. We get lots of looks. We often get questions.
We get praise at times for being a hero to rescue our adopted kids. I find this sentiment funny because both of our girls came from safe, stable and caring orphanages where they were perfectly well cared for. They didn’t need our rescue, but we are honored to be gifted to share their lives.
Most of the times when we discuss race as an adoptive family, it is someone expressing relief that our kids will not face the same issues or struggles. Most often it follows events such as Baltimore, Charleston and other times that violence against or by Blacks has made the news. People love to let us know they are relieved our Black kids will never have to face these things.
When I ask why, I get a very similar response from everyone. “Because you’re raising them right.” I give the benefit of the doubt each time I hear this statement. I always understand that most are well meaning and deeply care.
When I ask what that statement means it is commonly defined as the following: You’re raising them to be respectful. You’re raising them in a Christian home. You’re raising them to love people. You’re raising them to be “colorblind”. And the list goes on.
But, even if I “raise them right” there is no guarantee they will experience exclusion from racism and the effects of fear, terror, violence, discrimination and more. After all, I may raise them right, but I can’t raise them to become White!
There is a subtle racism that has catastrophic implications in this point of view. There is an assumption because my Black children are raised in a White world they will not face the same issues. As if being separated from the African American, or Black communities will give them a free pass. And, that assumption gives exposure to that fact that most people still believe that African American communities are far more prone to violence, delinquency and struggle.
This set of ideas is steeped in centuries of historical classism, racism and prejudice that have defined America. While we don’t generally hear social discussion, political speeches and revolutionary movement to support these ideas any longer, they still exist. Why? Because, we have become more “politically correct” as a culture.
So, if I raise my children “right” and they marry into the African American or Black community, then what? Are they being polluted with issues? Are they being exposed to dangers? Are they forsaking the up bringing we are giving to them? Or, if my White Children marry into that community are they doing the same?
It’s subtle. But, the reality is, in White America there is a blindness to racism. Whites are rarely subjected to racism in abject and cultural contexts. But we cannot deny it.
Yes, there are plenty of Blacks who are deeply racist against Whites. I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama for a large portion of my life. The racial tension on both sides of the struggle is intense. I have long been aware. But, in America there is an underlying assumption we rarely admit.
White = Right
I think we need to own this statement. I’m not saying that every White person feels this way. In fact, I was raised in a home that would have never implied or taught these by intention or even in an underlying assumption. But, I am saying that our culture assumes this idea. Our media perpetuates it, our education has long pushed this and our familial traditions have supported it.
What’s my point? I think we simply have to continue an open dialog. We need to bewilling to admit that racism is alive and well. We need to be willing to listen, share and learn. We need to admit when we are wrong. We need to consider that an alternative point of view exists.
As a White male, I am not afraid to have this conversation. It is uncomfortable, yes. I will not own the mistakes of the men and women who have gone before me, because they are not my mistakes. But, I must admit that the mistakes of these men and women. I must realize that they have flavored America and created the tensions that are alive and well today.
If we admit there is a basis in most of America that says
White = Right
Black = Broken
Then we can begin a dialog of healing, a dialog of hope for tomorrow and an honest look at where we are today!