Tag Archives: equality

Race, Equality, and Talking to Each Other

Decades ago, in a graduate level class on communications theory, I learned that we rarely talk to another person as he or she really is. Instead, we talk to that person as we conceive the individual to be. We talk to the Other—our concept of who that person is.

In talking with a group, we may speak to the Generalized Other—what we conceive that group to be, based on our experiences with and knowledge of individuals in the group.

This means, in my mind, that the more experiences and knowledge we have in common with an individual, the more likely we are to exchange ideas and beliefs clearly. The greater the gap between us in shared experiences and knowledge, the greater the likelihood of misunderstanding.

I believe this gap in experience and knowledge is at the heart of a lot of our current conflict over racial equality.

As an old white man, I wonder if there is any contribution from me that could be acceptable in trying to close the divide.

I freely admit that I will never face some of the abuse, roadblocks or challenges that African-Americans face constantly because of their skin color. I will never know some of the prejudices they have felt. Because of what people call my “white privilege” I am largely spared those things.

I believe that I recognize racial injustice; I have seen it at work in this country and others. I have always supported civil rights legislation and other legal and social efforts to insure that people of any color have equal opportunity and equal protection in our society. But apparently, believing this and voting for it is not enough these days. Simply saying “I’ve always been for it” could be criticized as “virtue signaling”—jumping on the bandwagon as it is passing by.

Apparently something more is required of me—but what, and how do I approach it?

In all my years, I have had relatively few opportunities to associate closely with black people. That was not by my choice, but simply because of where life has taken me. Except for one long-ago exception, my experiences with black people have all been positive.

I have learned from personal experience that judging others by their physical characteristics leads me into foolish mistakes at best, and at worst deprives me of opportunities to be enriched by other people. I have tried to overcome the human failing of making snap judgments about people based on what they look like; instead, I try to learn more about the individual.

It is very difficult for me to communicate with anyone solely as a member of a group—an African-American, and Asian, a feminist, someone who has a disability, or a militant advocate of any particular cause. It isn’t that I oppose their calls for change, but I don’t like to be judged by someone else’s sense of commitment to a cause, whatever it may be. Sometimes there is an implied challenge: Either you respond to this exactly as I do, or you’re the enemy.

Often I have been approached by ardent activists for worthy causes whose invitation to discussion goes something like this: “We need to talk about this problem—but if you can’t agree from the beginning that I am completely right on certain points and you are all wrong, I say you’re not serious about helping.” That doesn’t put us on equal ground.

If it would help to heal the ugly racial divide in this country, I would be glad to sit down with anyone and discuss the differences in our lives because we are of different races. No doubt I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’m willing.

But what I would prefer to talk about is how we are alike as children of God. How would the world change if we could focus more on our spiritual kinship with each other and with Him?

 

 

 

 

It’s Not Just Cloth. It’s an Ideal.

Topaz20190920_0026The flag pictured here flies over the site of Topaz, the detention camp where thousands of Japanese-Americans were held during World War II for no reason except their ethnicity. The fact that this camp existed is a reminder that our republic is not perfect. Topaz is one of the shameful mistakes in United States history.

Topaz name on fence

Artistry in rusty barbed wire gives a name to the barren site behind the fence.

And yet it is also a reminder that we can and should strive to do better. We cannot erase mistakes, even though we might try. After the war, almost everything was removed at this site except concrete foundations—and yet it is still here, in the memories and in the lives of families who were affected. We can never fully repay victims of injustices in our history for all that they suffered. We must resolve with them that this kind of suffering will not happen again.

Our national experiment in self-government is still young. It was not founded on rule by a familial dynasty, or some oligarchy. It was founded on rule by us—“We, the people”—and so it can still grow as we do. We need to see our country not as a nation that is mature, settled, or fading, but as a country that is still young and vital. We will still have vigorous, sometimes heated, debates about which way to go. In these debates, we must look for the light instead of heat. We are more likely to find that light in the middle of the spectrum rather than in passion or coldness at the extremes.

We need to remember that no single political party holds the key to all wisdom, and that Americans who disagree with us are not the enemy. Our enemies are those who want the American experiment to fail, who tell us we have no right to exist, who try to undermine our freedoms because freedom is a threat to their domination of people in their own countries.

Some years ago, I was strolling up a street in Rome when I saw my flag—the Stars and Stripes—rising above the trees. After a couple of weeks out of the country, I was thrilled to see it. I raised my camera and took a picture. Within seconds, an Italian policeman was at my side asking why I was taking pictures. I explained as best I could. Then, as he let me move on, I saw that the flag was flying over the U. S. embassy. In front of the building, more armed police officers were stationed behind a sandbag barrier, prepared to respond in case of attack. And I remembered that throughout the world, there are people who want to attack what our flag stands for.

It seems commonplace these days to protest injustice in our country by dishonoring its flag. But the flag still represents an ideal for me, one I learned to accept as a child: “. . . one nation, under God, indivisible.” I have watched the changes in world affairs for three-quarters of a century now. I have lived in other countries and had the privilege of traveling on six continents. And still it seems to me that the country represented by that red, white, and blue flag offers the world’s best hope for equality and justice. It’s not perfect. It may never be perfect. But it holds hope for moving in that direction.

So instead of taking a knee, how about extending a hand? I’ll give you mine. Maybe we can work together to solve some of the problems you see. Our work might be hard. We might have to learn a lot more about each other. We each might have to accept that some of our own views need to be altered.

27 Plaza4 25Au06But I’m not giving up on that “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” If we truly commit to being one nation and try to treat each other as a Heavenly Father would want His children to treat each other, we can do it.

Not seeing that ideal yet? Hang in there. Our experiment is still young.