I’m saddened by the immense suffering in our country and in our world. We’re grappling with racial injustice, domestic violence, substance abuse, child abuse, mental illness, and all to the backdrop of 120 thousand plus deaths due to COVID-19.
While I feel ill-equipped to adequately address the complexities of race, I am going to do my best to speak about racial injustice in an honest and compassionate way. I apologize in advance for any oversights or biases caused by my own misperceptions about race.
I work as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, which means I help people foster and grow healthy relationships with themselves and others. When I meet an individual, family or couple, I ask what’s bringing them to counseling and gather a detialed history of their relationships and life events. I need to listen with compassion, in order to understand how their problems started and what has made their lives better or worse along the way. If I don’t listen to their history and empathize with their feelings, I can’t establish trust. Without trust, all of my therapeutic skill is rendered useless. When we manage the relationship we have with ourselves and others’ relationships effectively, we can bring about change.
The relationship history between whites and blacks has been undeniably riddled with racism, violence and oppression for centuries. From 1500 until the 1860’s about 12 million blacks were forcibly taken and put on ships where they sailed to the Americas to be sold into slavey. It’s estimated that 1.5-2 million men, women and children died due to detestable conditions aboard these slave ships. This is how the relationship between blacks and whites began.
While race relations have improved and progressed over time, positive changes didn’t just happen. People had to take action. They had to be brave and make sacrifices. Think about the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, Brown vs the Board of Education, and the tireless work of civil rights leaders. Martin Luther King Jr.and so many others have given their lives for equality and yet, we still see racial injustice and inequality with the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others.
If we silently ignore the history and feelings of our African American brothers and sisters over racial injustice and inequality, then we’re failing to listen and care about their suffering. We need to think about why we have seen the largest protests in history for racial justice across the world. We have to focus on what minorities are thinking and feeling about injustice and inequality. Psychologist Ashleigh Warner says, “Beneath every behavior there is a feeling. And beneath each feeling is a need. And when we meet that need, rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom.” If we want to mend relationships, we have to listen with empathy and act with compassion. We have to stop pointing fingers and be part of the solution.
As a white male, I have privileges African Americans don’t have. Privilege is when you don’t have to respond to a problem because it does not impact you personally. I don’t know what it’s like to be racially profiled or discriminated against because of race. I can go jogging without worrying that people will assume that I’m a criminal because of the color of my skin. If I am pulled over by the police, I might be nervous, but I don’t fear for my life. I have the privilege of assuming a positive relationship with the police, while sadly African Americans cannot make this assumption.
Think of the story of Amy Cooper that went viral. Ms.Cooper was in Central Park with her dog when David Cooper, a 57-year-old African American man (no relation), asked her to leash her dog. Ms.Cooper started filming Mr.Cooper and threatened to call the police. She said, “I’m going to tell them that there’s an African American male threatening my life.” At that moment, Ms. Cooper used her race as a weapon in an attempt to have power over Mr. Cooper. She knew her relationship with the police was assumed to be positive and that his relationship with police was assumed to be negative. When people like Ms. Cooper use their race to have power over minorities, they perpetuate racism. Racism doesn’t always occur in such obvious ways, it also occurs outside of our conscious awareness.
We all have biases we learn from our culture, family, friends, education, media, and school. Some of our biases are conscious, while other biases are subconscious or implicit. This means, well-meaning people like you and I have subconscious judgments and biases without even realizing we have them. Implicit biases can occur even when people think they are being fair. Stanford researchers reviewed 95 million traffic records from 2011 to 2018 and found police stop fewer black drivers at night when a ‘veil of darkness’ obscures their race. Despite being pulled over less at night time, African Americans and Latinos were still more likely to have their cars searched in comparison to their white counterparts. While more research is needed, there is evidence that mindfulness can help with racial bias. We need to find ways to become more conscious of our biases. We need to be healthier and happier, so that we have the strength and stamina to do the difficult work of transforming our society for better. There is more than 40 years of research showing that mindfulness-meditation benefits overall health and well-being. We have to find ways that we can come together.
In America, our culture prides itself on being right-debating each point instead of listening to each other. What would it be like if we were more curious about people who have a different view of life than we do? What if we focused on addressing the pain that minorities feel over racial injustice? What if we could start having conversations? What if we could remember that people just want to be happy like we do? What if we valued being kind over being right? Our family went to visit the Black Lives Matter mural in uptown Charlotte recently and upon arriving, an African American male greeted our family. I could tell he wanted to talk, so I stopped to have a conversation with him. As I greeted him, he looked at me and without hesitation he said “I love y’all.” In that moment he reminded me that love is a value that brings us together and makes change possible.
I don’t have all of the answers, but I know we need to stand against racism and promote equality and justice. I believe that when we listen with empathy and curiosity that we will be compelled to take action. I am working to educate myself on anti-racism, injustice and racial bias, so that I may continue to be part of the solution. I am having conversations with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues about racism. I was moved by Bryan Stevenson’s Ted Talk “We Need to Talk About an Injustice.” and the HBO documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight For Equality. Will you listen? Will you work to be part of the solution? What can you do to be a leader where you are?
I will leave you with a quote, “It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Take care of yourself and each other-
We Need to Talk About an Injustice – Bryan Stevenson
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A Keen Mind Podcast: Episode #46 Being Mindful of Race
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