“No matter the outcome of the presidential election, one thing is certain, the issue of race will be front and center over the course of the campaign, whether it is openly discussed or remains — uncomfortably — the elephant in the room. The candidates will likely work hard to avoid making race an issue. But on talk shows, in coffee shops, bars and barbershops, and around the dinner table across America, it will surely be a topic of lively — or perhaps heated — conversation.
Such conversations beg for candor.
As we come face-to-face with the powerful influence of race, it will serve us well to truly look at the history of race and racism in America. We must, if we ever hope to achieve a society where race is a non-issue. A society where the question, “Is America really ready to elect a black man or woman, or a brown man or woman president?” seems silly. When the contributions of all Americans are chronicled and commemorated in the same history books. When the rich, complex and complete American story in all its shame and glory is taught and told in classrooms and living rooms everywhere.
But today is not that day. We must acknowledge the role race still plays in American life and engage in constructive, liberating dialogue to minimize, mitigate and ultimately nullify its destruction effect. We must peel away the layers — much like an onion — letting the tears flow, if need be, to get to the heart of things.
Let’s look a little closer at a layer at the very core of our beliefs about race and racial differences: the family unit. This will require an open mind and some painful admissions on everyone’s part about American families — both black and white.
Black and white families in America have traveled different and widely divergent paths. One of privilege. The other of paucity. One is carried forward by a history in which the presence of both parents has been valued and promulgated. The other is burdened by the history of slavery in which the family unit was raped and destroyed; separating mother from father; father from child. One has experienced freedom of movement within society, with automatic acceptance. The other has faced constant rejection, both blatant and subtle.
One has enjoyed a certain level of economic prosperity. The other has too often found itself trapped in a perpetual cycle of poverty. One has benefitted from good schools and educational opportunities; the other subjected persistently to sub-standard learning environments. One lives in a neighborhood free of blight and crime; the other constantly plagued by both.
These realities shape our fears, resentments and biases, and keep us wondering why.
Why, black folks wonder, do some white teenagers from comfortable neighborhoods build bombs and go on shooting rampages, killing their fellow classmates, teachers and family members? Why, white folks wonder, do some black teenagers sell drugs, rob the elderly, and shoot fellow teenagers for money or a jacket?
Black folks think affirmative action and set-asides are needed to level the playing field. White folks think such measures are reverse discrimination.
And, of course, there are black and white folks who think none of the above. They understand that we all are the sum total of our experience that begins with and is shaped by the family of which we are a part.
There are black and white folks who share an immovable faith in the human will and the spirit to overcome adversity and impoverishment. There are black and white folks who fervently believe that some day race will not define how we see each other, how well we work together to build stronger families, stronger communities and a better America.”