I’ve always been the type of person that could see the best in people. Sometimes, I couldn’t help but see the worse in them…especially when they make it easy to see. I don’t know where or when I adopted the ideology that all people were created equal and that there was no need for racial hatred or bigotry. A part of me believes that this was taught to me by my mother. Another part of me believes that this was something that I just adopted into my persona because the idea simply worked for me.
Every few years, like clockwork, you can anticipate that a situation will come to light that will have many people standing beside water coolers across the country talking; perhaps taking a stance on how they feel as either African American or European American people. And the one thing that I come away with each and every time is that the racial divide is at times so deep and entrenched in American culture, I seriously doubt if it can ever be truly eradicated.
Perhaps one thing that can lead towards healing the divide that runs so deep in our society is to understand what it’s like to be a part of the race that you don’t understand. Of course, it may help if you have the desire to truly want to understand what it really feels like to be black or white in America today as well as what it was like to exist in either race years ago. There’s a saying that in order to know where you are going, you have to understand where you came from. It’s knowing your history inside and out that will keep you from making the same mistakes that others before you have made.
Many people understand the history of blacks and whites without comprehending the emotional aspect of how it is for anyone that falls outside of their scope of living. Being black didn’t just mean that you used to live in the ghetto or was regarded as a second class citizen just like being white didn’t translate to being regarded as a part of an affluent group of people, although it really depends on who you speak to.
The history of Black America as we see it is steeped in repression, subjugation and discrimination. This is not distorting reality; it is a fact. As a result, you have many African Americans that have been directly or indirectly impacted by these realities that still occur within our society although not as overt as it did just 30 years ago. Some people would want to put the ugliness of that history in the past and leave it there with the reasoning that we can’t heal or move forward until that very thing has been done. But the problem with that thought process is that the history has not been addressed. Dismissing it doesn’t erase the pain that is still present in the hearts of many African Americans. We feel that pain in everything that we do…from finding a job, to finding suitable housing to having equal opportunities to excel in the workplace.
On the other side of the coin are the liberal Americans who did not go through the darker sections of the history of this country. They believe that everything is great and don’t understand why blacks are holding onto past injustices. After all, strides have been made. Attitudes have changed. There are more African Americans appearing in boardrooms across the country and there is no lack of black images flooding our televisions, magazines and newspapers. To those liberal people, we may appear ungrateful for the opportunities that are afforded us now that wasn’t available to our mothers and fathers. And those same liberals may be tired of hearing about the injustices that have been inflicted on African Americans in the past.
The problem with this dynamic is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Black people want to forget the horrors of the past as much as liberal whites, but the problem is there will always be someone from both sides of the racial tracks that will remind us of the very thing that we would like to forget. There will be the non-progressive boss that will not only say things, but do things to show how non-progressive he/she really is. By the same token, there are blacks that will harbor feelings of resentment and anger because the slightest reminder of how things “were” will send them into an emotional tailspin.
Adding to this challenge is the simple reality of our lives respectively. For African Americans, the simple reality is that we have always been regarded with a shroud of suspicion, whether it is warranted or not. We have been classified as somehow being deserving of the hardships that we’ve encountered which would then somehow lend validation to the non-liberal person’s view of us as a race of people.
This, unfortunately is a two-edged sword, because there are many liberal white people that simply don’t subscribe to the ideologies of a repressive society that had been allowed to flourish in the past. They don’t see color and are appalled by the thoughts and actions perpetrated by people within their race. The challenge is that although they feel the way that they do, they are still associated to the perpetrators of bigotry by race. This is their reality. They know nothing of the hardships encountered by African American people. They’ve never been regarded with suspicion associated with race, unless, of course it was by persons outside of their own race. They don’t understand where the anger in African American people comes from. And by the same token, they don’t understand that even though they don’t see color, the rest of the world does in both positive and negative hues. In their reality, just by being white, you reap certain rewards. This is their reality.
The racial divide has so many different components and moving parts, and it’s a complex problem that almost looks like there is no cure in sight for it. How do you resolve a problem that has been generations in the making? Maybe the resolution is also generations in the making, but it started a few decades ago.
Maybe it will take another generation or two before we can truly regard one another without bringing in past hurts or pain into the mix. Learning to see past our pain and disappointments is perhaps one of the most challenging things for us as human beings to do. But the first thing is to remember that we are human beings. We will make mistakes. We just have to be smart enough to learn from them so that we wont make them again.
~ J.L. Whitehead