“There is no shame in not knowing; the shame lies in not finding out.”
— Russian proverb
In last month’s Daughters of the Dream blog, I shared my thoughts on America’s lack of readiness for racial healing. It’s not that I don’t want us to heal. I do. But I believe there are a series of stages for that healing to occur. As I said then, “Racial healing is a process, not an event.” I offer my process suggestions in three—hopefully, easily digestible—steps shared this month. Look for the posts on my blog about every 10 days. Here’s the first:
Step One: Reveal
Most of us have only seen America from the vantage point of white America (either because you are white or because our country’s educational and media experiences are dominated by the white perspective). Our knowledge of race and racial injustice is cursory.
This was revealed powerfully in an episode of the TV game show, Jeopardy when all of the categories, but one, in the double jeopardy second round had been entirely answered. Remaining on the board—untouched—was African-American History. This was a special episode of the show; the contestants were all college students. Even America’s best and brightest were not ready for this category because little in their education had adequately prepared them. And—this is important—the episode wasn’t from the 1960’s, the early days of the show. This happened in 2014.
Revealing our lack of knowledge and correcting that deficiency is the first step toward healing.
There must be a comprehensive and deep understanding of where we are and how we got here if we are to heal. If you are ready for a deeper understanding, I commend to you the following three books and a recent mini-series to start your learning journey:
- Stamped from the Beginning by Dr. Ibram Kendi. Kendi is a Professor of History and International Relations at American University and the Founding Director of the University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center. The subtitle of his book is “The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” Dr. Kendi comprehensively reveals the historical origins of racist beliefs in a way that most of us have never heard. Be prepared, he is thorough!
- The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. Rothstein is a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute. The subtitle of his book is “A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.” When one thinks about how much is attached to where we live (see my April 2019 blog, Home) along with Rothstein’s revelations on the intentionality of the federal government in ensuring disparate living areas, we can better understand different life outcomes, by race.
- Remembering Slavery edited by Ira Berlin, Marc Favreau, and Steven Miller. This book, subtitled “African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences with Slavery and Emancipation” presents stories told by formerly enslaved people during the 1920s and 1930s to HBCU students from Fisk University, Southern University and Kentucky State University and to researchers from the Federal Writers’ Project during the New Deal. Like Jewish people who proclaim “Never forget/never again” to implore society to never forget the atrocities that happened to their people, this book reveals slavery, through first-person remembrances, a perspective that few know today, a truth that we should never forget.
- When They See Us is a 2019 Netflix mini-series co-written and directed by Ava DuVernay. It captures the experience of five young African-American men falsely accused of rape, their treatment when the crime occurred in 1989, how the media portrayed them, how the public reacted, their imprisonment, and their exoneration years later when the real rapist confessed. This is an age-old story grounded in the perceived purity of white women, the bestiality of black men, and their lust for white women, that unfolds within a biased and structurally racist criminal justice system.
When you read or view these resources, you may notice that they are hard to watch or to comprehend fully at first. Take time. Read and re-read. Make yourself watch the difficult parts of the mini-series. Is it hard for you to believe that someone would confess to a crime they didn’t commit? Is it hard for you to believe that a private citizen responded by spending $85,000 for an ad in a major New York City newspaper calling for the death penalty? What leads both to take the actions they did? Can you see the layering of prejudicial messages that Kendi traces over centuries that can culminate in the Central Park Five or in the segregationist policies that Rothstein unveils? Do you believe the stories that the formerly enslaved people tell or do you think they are misrepresenting or exaggerating that experience? I hope you will take the time to get in touch with your thoughts and your feelings and think about what contributes to them.
The learning, however, must go beyond a personal level if there is to be real healing for our country. A short reading and viewing list is entirely inadequate to address 400 years of the African-American experience. We must include the study of our racial history in the core curriculum of every elementary, middle, and high school in America. Research has shown that preconceptions and biases based on race emerge at very early ages. We must address those consciously, with structured, well-developed curricula, in school. Then, we must embed a more in-depth study of structural racism and implicit bias into the curriculum of colleges and universities at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. We must graduate leaders who can see where we are as a country and who know how we got here so they can lead us to a place of racial equity.
The depth, breadth and impact of racial inequity must be revealed if we are to heal as a society.
Check back on August 14th (or subscribe so the blogs come directly to your inbox) to learn about what I see as step two: Reflect. But, in the meantime, please add your reading and viewing recommendations in the comments section of this post. What has opened your eyes to a racial reality that was unseen?
13 Replies to “Three Steps to Racial Healing: REVEAL| Reflect | Recalibrate”
you lost me with that Russian proverb
Thx for telling me. Did I lose you because it didn’t resonate or because it was Russian?
Great suggestions, Tamara, and, as you say, any list is entirely inadequate. For those who are still struggling to understand their white privilege, I recommend three more – White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo; Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving; and White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise.
Bill, thanks for being a follower and for being an active voice for racial justice. Ironically, two of the suggestions that you make are in my post that will come out on the 17th. I hope you will encourage others to follow the blog. I hope it can provoke more learning, conversations and action. Be well.
Tamara, to me, you are the powerful embodiment of the adage, “walk softly and carry a big stick.” Your words have deep impact, not because they burn with moral outrage, but because your words are born of a lifetime of experience, coupled with clarity and purpose as well as your writerly talent and skill. I’ve come to count on the shining light of your work to help me negotiate the sometimes murky waters of being a 65-year-old white woman who grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. You’ve shown me paths to travel that always lead me to a deeper understanding of racism. Perhaps even more significant, I resonate strongly with your analysis and your thoughts on moving forward toward that place of racial equity. Thank you, yet again.
And ps, I, too, was momentarily thrown by the quote–because it’s Russian–but then recovered when I got the point.
Becky, thank you for your comments generally and for being on this learning journey with me. I hope you will encourage others to follow the blog. I hope we can all grow the community of conscious learners. You know, I did think twice about using the Russian proverb, but it’s message did frame what I was trying to say and it reminded me that there is good in every community. Again, thanks for being a follower.
Sent from Mail for Windows 10
I had to go back and look everywhere for the Russian proverb that folks were talking about. Couldn’t find it. Until finally, I looked back at the top of the article, and there it was! Maybe since I read all of the article before finding the quote, I got it immediately. No one should be ashamed that he does not immediately recognize racial inequities, just like no one should feel bad she doesn’t speak some other language (for example, Russian). However, once a person comes to acknowledge her own lack of awareness, then that person is able to truly embark on a journey to correct the situation. I was surprised when I read your book by what I had not realized during our college years, and I have consciously begun reading more books by African American authors, although I have to admit that realistic or historical fiction is more my choice.
I do think the quote frames the message, but I don;t want it to stop folks from reading. Maybe I should move it to the end of the post.
I think it is fine at the beginning. Maybe place it even closer to the following article.
I’ve heard it said that for someone who is truly receptive, there’s no wrong way to say a thing, and for someone who isn’t, there’s no right way to say it. If it feels right to you, leave the quote. As a writer, I feel your authenticity in the choice you made, and that’s gold. Your work is strong and attracts people who are ready for strong stuff. No backtracking necessary.
Tamara as always your writing is powerful and important. No shortage of excellent books to read but I would like to add Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Thanks for your recommendations also. Promise to include them on my reading list!!
That’s a good one. Thanks, Carol.
Thanks I will pass this good info on to friends I know they will enjoy..We starve for good info.