Racial Healing

racial healing image
This illustration by Jennifer Luxton was created for and originally posted by Yes! Magazine and is shared with permission.

America isn’t ready for it.


Over the last couple of years, I have heard a lot of talk about racial healing. I have the same reaction every time: How can we heal without treating the wound, and how can that be done effectively without understanding it?

I want America to recognize the depth of the racial wound and to acknowledge how that wound, that injury, that disease… spread and infected society.

Recently when talking with a black friend, she reminded me that my perspective is that of a black person. In her view, white people want this conversation to go away. When she hears ‘racial healing,’ she thinks it is code for ‘Black people need to get over it.’ Hmmm. Get over it.

I am just beginning to understand IT; the extent and impact of racial inequity and injustice were hard for even me to see. I too was duped. I understood prejudice and discrimination, but I thought those who were prejudiced were ignorant people or those whose views were ill-informed because they hadn’t gotten to know black people. And then, ignorantly, for decades, I thought discrimination had ended with the passage of critical pieces of civil rights legislation. I believed this country was a meritocracy. I believed that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you would ‘win’ by American standards. I was so very wrong. I didn’t understand the facts or the subtleties, the biases that shaped how the world was presented to me.

It wasn’t until recently that I began to fully appreciate the white lens through which many stories and ‘facts’ are told. Even when the recounting is not directly by a white person, the story is influenced by the majority culture/lore/norms. With each visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, or when reading posts on the blog, The Root, for example, I get a deeper appreciation for how much I never learned of the history, the accomplishments, the positive impact of black people on America. And it still isn’t being told in the dominant media.

It took the injustice of Trayvon Martin’s murder, coupled with the lack of consequences for his murderer to shock me out of my stupor. And it took listening to countless podcasts like ‘Uncivil,’ absorbing the wisdom and in-depth racial analyses from leaders and thinkers like john a. powell (capitalization is his preference), Robin DiAngelo, Richard Rothstein, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram Kendi for me to learn the insidiousness, intentionality, and impact of structural racism; the structures in place for decades causing black people to be disadvantaged as white people moved farther and farther ahead. My learning until 2012 had been casual, family-influenced, experiential. After the horror of Trayvon, my eyes opened to an obscured reality. I started on a conscious learning journey to understand the depth, breadth, and impact of structural racism on society and on me.

There have been decades of Band-Aids placed haphazardly with no real sense of where the wound was or the fact that the injury may present as a flesh wound — a small cut, quickly addressed, but it isn’t. IT is cancer, invasive, and all-consuming. Those Band-Aids were insufficient unless their intent was not to heal but to both mask the problem and the fact that no one was trying to cure it.

That’s how I see the rush to racial healing. Another Band-Aid.

Even though wounds can be ugly and painful to look at, they must be revealed and their cause understood. That’s my issue. I don’t think the racial wound has been fully revealed and understood. Has it been diagnosed by people with the insights, knowledge, and sensitivity to determine the problem fully, i.e., has the cadre of diagnosticians gone through the educational rigor to understand the symptoms, how the problem operates and how to treat it? Who is studying how to prevent it from returning? Who is focused beyond treatment to eradication?

Personally, I want to heal. I want America to heal. I just know that if it has taken me, a black, educated person directly affected by structural racism and implicit bias, some time to see and begin to understand it, how long will it take those who benefit from the way the country is?

America doesn’t seem ready – as a country — even to admit that racism exists, much less to learn how it occurred, and how it continues. And there is no quick, easy fix. It will take years of work. Racial healing is a process, not an event. We must unspin the web that created and now perpetuates racism. Then, systematically, we must replace it with a new societal reality. Only then do I think we can heal.

“It takes a deep commitment to change and an even deeper commitment to grow.”

– Ralph Ellison

Note: Look to the August Daughters of the Dream blog for my thoughts on how I think the racial healing process might begin..



11 Replies to “Racial Healing”

  1. Tamara, your direct, unvarnished observations are what we need to expose the insidiousness of racism. I’m curious. Do you think we’ll see progress in our lifetimes? (I plan to live to 90. 😉)


    1. Well, Janet I didn’t think I would see a black president in my lifetime. The level of understanding and commitment to change seems to be growing. By age 90, you and I both might know what a racially equitable country looks like.


  2. I recently was in a meeting with several African American elders of Roanoke, along with our Vice Mayor and City Manager, to begin an effort we’re calling Finding a Way Forward. The president of the Roanoke Branch NAACP said that PTSD has been passed down through DNA from the days of enslavement. Others commented that systemic racism has inflicted a form of mental illness on Blacks in this country. These are deep wounds that never will be “healed” until we develop some serious treatments. My hope is that more folks who look like me will be willing to listen long enough to understand what white privilege really is and how it inevitably perpetuates oppression, intended or not.


  3. We need to approach this as a unified people. As humans. That was my lens. A human lens.

    We are expected to have conversations about race and be aware of race. I highly recommend we don’t do that. Highly recommend.

    I don’t want to look at someone and think of them first as…separate. As something that makes them NOT like me. I want to look at people and see family. I don’t want to be put into a group that is away and different than my family. I’m not a white guy. I’m a human. I never used a “white lens.” I see humans through human eyes.

    If I have to think about structural racism…then I can’t use my human lens. Because I’m not longer human. I’m a white male. The Oppressor.

    That changes my family. If you make me start talking about race, and having conversations….I’ll do that. But you won’t like it. Trust me. You won’t.


    Because I’ll start looking at things. Like a good little boy, I’ll look at all the things you say. I won’t just see other humans being raped….no. I need to examine the racial component. Now I see disparities in interracial rape stats. I didn’t want to see that. Thanks. I didn’t want to know this. But black on white rape is higher than the reverse by a factor of over 900. Annually. You were right. Wounds can be “ugly and painful to look at.” I wasn’t looking until you told me to.

    I was happier being the oppressor. I was blind to things like pages and pages of government grants for “minority” and not a single grant for my new family. I never knew that until you separated me. Until you made me look closer at race.

    I didn’t want to be a white male. I use to be just another human.

    But you said I need to admit that “racism exists.” I didn’t want to see it. But it does look like, between whites and blacks, black people kill more white people than the reverse. 2x more. The rate per capita is worse. I don’t want to look. Do I have to? Do I have to understand the “facts and subtleties?” Please don’t make me… Okay. I’m a good boy.
    I don’t want to be an oppressor, so I’ll look. Because if I normalize for population percentage…it is a rate 10x higher than the reverse.

    Trayvon Martin…I didn’t want him to die. I didn’t want a fellow human to get hurt or feel bad. Ever. But I have to think about race now, right? I need to be “aware.”

    So now I notice that the next day, after Mr. Martin died, two black guys abucted and murdered a white couple in Detroit. Is that what you wanted me to notice?

    Or was it the following day. You know. When two black kids attacked a white kid, and tried to burn him alive while telling him he deserved it because he was white?

    I didn’t want to do what you said. I didn’t want to be aware of race. Or how races treat each other. Or injustice. But I’m a good boy, and I don’t want to be an oppressor. So I’ll do what you say.

    I could go on. Do you want me to? You want me to keep seeing race? Or can we go back to just being humans?

    This is what I hate about this push. Yes, every group of people have concerns. Valid concerns. But the best way to fix them is to stop being groups. To stop focusing on differences.

    If another human is upset…or needs help…I don’t want to look at historical context. I don’t want to look at race or sex or anything. I want to hug them. Don’t you? Don’t we all? Its freaking instinct. If we see someone in need…it is the natural human impulse to help. I don’t even think we can help it, can we?

    I look at it this way. What we have is a scab over a wound. Its ugly. Its gross. Its healing. Slowly. Or it was.

    Until it was picked off by this new wave of victimhood.

    The problem is, the scab formed during a different time. Wounds change. Some get infected…some become necrotic.

    I’m telling you…this push has to stop. Don’t pick at the scab. Because you risk a very….very scary infection.


  4. This is a great, thought-provoking post. Before healing, we must recognize the depth of the wound. So true.

    Which makes us return to the question of how to help people (in my experience, mostly fellow whites) recognize the depth and seriousness of those racist sounds. Because, as you accurately said, many are still in complete denial.


      1. Hmmm…only speaking for my experiences (which I’ll admit is an experience of privilege
        as a white man), personal stories seem most effective. The personal stories of racial segregation in the New York City public schools (I’m in New York City), or “stopping while brown” that my younger brother’s friends talked about (code for: stop-and-frisk that predominantly targeted people of color) can move the needle the most, in my experiences. Not to say that other things can’t move the needle though.


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