Many many years ago there was a white woman on your show who said something unintentionally offensive about black people that got other members of your audience upset, something along the lines of “why can’t they just get over it. I have” and instead of getting mad at her, turning your back on her, or writing her off as many might in your position, you did something completely different.
You told her that you understood why she might feel that way from her perspective because maybe she felt she didn’t have any racism in her heart and therefore didn’t understand why she continuously needed to deal with something that she had no control over and that had happened before her time, but then you continued with a dialogue I will never forget: you said that you thought the reason we are all still dealing with it is because, like it or not, maybe the effects of something as traumatic as a whole race of people being enslaved doesn’t just wear off in a generation. It works itself out slowly over generations.
You shared with her things that I think a lot of white americans have never thought about (I know I never had) like how most African American families still have a least one family member that was directly touched by slavery (the grandparents and great grandparents of today had grandparents who were slaves) and that those memories and those hurts still live on today through them. That there is still so much anger to work through. That maybe if there was the chance to truly be heard, maybe an earnest apology offered, even for the things done by a generation of the past, maybe it could make a difference.
I learned some extremely important lessons that day and even went on to study about MLK Jr. and the civil rights movement etc but the most important thing I learned that day is that dialogue can make a powerful difference. It certainly did for me. Before that day I was that lady you were talking to, a white woman certain that I had triumphed. I had gotten past the prejudices inherited from my past. How cool am I? A regular saint. But thanks to you and your courage to have a new kind of conversation, I realized it’s not just about me and what I heal and move past, its about what we as a collective society heal and move past together.
We are so isolated as a society. Yes we live side by side, free from the legal divisions of the past, but still we divide ourselves voluntarily (and its not just white people that are to blame for that). We hardly ever talk about anything that really matters, in fact we hardly talk at all, until something like the Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman situation occurs. But banter after a painful event like that only heightens the divisions. There’s a whole lot of talking and reacting but no one is really listening. It ends up looking more like an episode of the Springer show rather than a mature society trying to figure it all out.
I think as a society we have to admit that this is never going away until we face it head on by having a real and ongoing discussion about it. A discussion that is honest, patient, non-reactionary, a discussion where in good faith we really try to understand as best we can where each side is coming from and how it is we got to where we are now. I feel that that long needed discussion would be the maturation of MLK’s dream.
The reason I am writing to you is because something in me has always wanted to make a difference in this area, I just haven’t known how, but I thought, if you decide to open a discussion about this, as I imagine you would, then maybe the way I could make a difference would be to volunteer myself to be part of that discussion.
With love and gratitude