Even before the recent events, I couldn’t celebrate like many others did on the Fourth of July. I posted a picture of slaves in a cotton field instead because that was the vantage point of my ancestors on July 4, 1776. They weren’t free. Many of my supporters were upset by what they viewed as a divisive message being shared on a celebratory day. But there’s a difference between creating division and exposing the division that’s being ignored. As a good friend of mine explained, "The very nature of a holiday is to recall the past. But when we bring up our past -- and present -- suffering [we’re regarded as] divisive. How?" That’s something I’d like everyone who expressed dissent to my posts this week to ask themselves.
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I realize, however, that race, slavery, oppression, injustice and related topics are still controversial talking points in many circles. A few months ago, I took part in a Q&A after speaking at Yale University on Knowledge Through Narrative: Bridging the Racial Divide in America. It’s my hope that the perspective I shared with those students can provide better insight into my passion and pursuit for racial reconciliation in America and gives you some things to consider as you navigate the current climate in our country, like this excerpt from the talk.
Student: You talk about stories and how everyone has a different story but I guess my question is how can we get someone else to care about our story when we have two completely different perceptions of life and reality? And then my follow-up question would be if it's all subjective, is there any type of right and wrong?
Me: On one front, I think that it takes humility to hear another person’s vantage point, especially when you believe the one that you have is correct. We're all biased; there's no one in this room who's not conditioned, socially and environmentally, to have biases. Biases exist within everyone so listening and understanding takes a level of humility. It just does, and that's really what it comes down to.
A lot of times, when you don't have to deal with some of the circumstances that affect minority culture, you just don't think they exist. This is a conversation I have with lots of my white friends all the time. When I share my experiences with them, they're like, "Oh. Really?" It takes a level of humility and developing some relationships outside -- and I mean real relationships, not just through work and school projects -- to even begin to understand that.
Some people may have to say, "I don't understand systems and infrastructures making differences in people’s lives. I just see that my decisions affect my reality. I'm not racist. I'm not mad at anybody. I want to hear your story. So explain how you see racism as an institutional problem?" Your fight is to help them see the structure -- the structural and systemic issues that really change our society and can create barriers and problems.
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For example, nobody would deny that if someone was a billionaire in 1962, his billions are going to affect all of his descendants. The reverse is also true. The lack of education, material and finances for a slave are going to affect the descendants of that individual as well. So when you start looking at it [like that] and stepping back, you may say, "Ah, okay. It's more of a systemic issue that's happening." If you start to see some of these infrastructural [issues], that will start to make a difference.
But to be fair, that process takes humility on both sides. It also takes a great deal of humility for someone to quell his or her emotions, frustrations, and anger with another who constantly can’t see the emotional turmoil they're going through. The person who feels frustrated by those who don’t readily understand or acknowledge racism, will struggle to consistently paint the narrative for them.
I want people to know that [racism] is bigger than just caring for your community. This is a moral issue across the board for humanity. If you subscribe to any moral code that says you should care for humanity, obviously black people will fit into that category. So why would you not advocate for justice and truth unless you have something to lose?