By Tiffanie Drayton | Originally Published at The Frisky. June 30, 2015 | Painting Credit; “Murder in Mississippi” – Norman Rockwell. Oil on canvas. 1964. Intended as the illustration for the Look magazine article titled, “Southern Justice,” by Charles Morgan, Jr. Norman Rockwell Family Agency ©. All rights reserved. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections.
For that reason, it is extremely important that we all understand and employ steps towards reconciliation. It’s the only way to heal the gaping wounds created by centuries of racism, and also to create stronger and healthier relationships on a micro and macro level. After all, society is merely the sum of our collective human behavior – our relationships to one another, to institutions, to other countries and even the Earth itself. Each and every one of us is responsible for establishing healthy relationships interpersonally, just as our country is responsible for doing the same with all of its citizens.
This list outlines important steps that must be taken to properly reconcile any relationship threatened by a participant’s misdeed. These steps can be applied to any relationship — whether it’s between lovers, friends, family or racial groups and institutions — but in the spirit of furthering much needed conversations about racial inequality, the steps will be applied to reconciling the relationship between white America and Black people as well.
1. Acknowledge wrongdoings.
White/Black America’s Relationship: White America has yet to publicly denounce slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, redlining, forced sterilization and or any other wrongs done to the Black community over the course of American history. This failure represents a reluctance towards true reconciliation. This country must publicly denounce racism in order for equality to prevail.
2. Accept and welcome feelings of guilt.
White/Black America’s Relationship: Today, white people struggle with feelings of guilt about the way Blacks and people of color are treated in this country. That is not only undeniable but unavoidable, because racism violates not only our individual moral standards, but even that of the country at large, which preaches freedom and equality for all. That violation forces the country and most whites into defense mode, where mechanisms are employed to obviate guilt. Some of the most common defense mechanisms employed by white America are:
- Repression: Claims that racism no longer exists. The Colorblind Era — where everyone claimed they didn’t “see color” — is the most recent example of how repression fails to address an issue.
- Avoidance: Segregation in institutions and neighborhoods creates distance between whites and Blacks and their respective experiences.
- Projection: Black people are constantly blamed for their poverty, while their culture is referred to as “dysfunctional,” despite the fact that white supremacy is at fault for perpetuating a system of inequality that is responsible for these results.
3. Accept responsibility for the ramifications of your transgressions.
White/Black America’s Relationship: The end results of structural racism and the after effects of centuries of inequality can be seen in everything from disproportionate poverty rates among Blacks, to the wealth gap and a Black life expectancy rate that is shorter than that of whites. Poverty and the creation of “ghettos” through discriminatory housing practices are responsible for widespread violence, yet America continues to brand African-Americans as “thugs” and “welfare queens,” displacing the guilt from the perpetrators to the victims.
4. Establish ways to atone for misdeeds.
White/Black America’s Relationship: While many argue that Civil Rights Era legislation like Affirmative Action atones for centuries of oppression, today we see that it has not. Affirmative Action legislation has benefitted white women more than any other demographic, the income and wealth gaps persists, schools are still segregated, Black people still lack access to equal health care and millions of Black people are incarcerated for non-violent offenses or murdered by police while unarmed. After the murder of nine Black women and men in their place of worship, America responded by demanding that South Carolina and other states take down of the Confederate Flag. While important, such a response failed to atone for the original wrongdoing, or address the white radicalism that inspired it. America must do better. It must establish a plan to address these issues head on.
5. Allow those you have wronged to fully express their disappointment, anger or sadness.
White/Black America’s Relationship: Oftentimes whites try to quiet people of color who attempt to address oppression or inequality or dismiss such individuals by labeling them “angry” or “race baiters.” Instead, White America should simply be quiet and listen.
6. Beware of others who reinforce bad behavior.
White/Black America’s Relationship: White transgressions against Black people and people of color were/are not only socially acceptable but state sanctioned to a large extent. This presents one of the greatest difficulties when trying to tackle the issue of racism in the United States of America: it requires the very isolating dedication of those willing to separate themselves from the herd to act based on what they deem as morally right or wrong. That separation is courageous and commendable, but also takes a lot of strength and bravery because human beings fear isolation and ostracism. Nevertheless, it is the cost of progress which many whites and Blacks have already paid. Others must step up and continue to sacrifice for the greater good.
7. Do not look to those who have been wronged for a solution.
White/Black America’s Relationship: White America’s go-to response after confronting racism is often, “Well, what should we do about it?” The onus is not on Black people or minority people to come up with a resolution to the long legacy of institutional racism and oppression, though by closely following what I outlined in #5 — that is, listening to grievances — you’re likely to glean some tips.
8. Do not expect immediate resolution.
White/Black America’s Relationship: White America’s tendency towards telling Black and other people of color that they need to “get over” slavery/segregation and to stop “living in the past” is dismissive of the pain caused by those forms of oppression and the oppression that is still ongoing.
9. Examine the larger forces at work that informed those unhealthy decisions that hurt others.
White/Black America’s Relationship: At this point in the debate, it is nearly impossible to deny the existence of racism in America, and those that do will more than likely never change their opinion. For the rest of the nation that understands the need to confront this fact, that confrontation begins with the self. We must all examine the racist notions and stereotypes which we have internalized and also evaluate where we stand in the social hierarchy created by white supremacy and acknowledge the ways we benefit from our participation in it.
Tiffanie Drayton is a freelance writer and graduate of The New School University. She hopes to one day return to an equal and racially tolerant America.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with the kind permission of the Author, Tiffanie Drayton. We thank Tiffanie for her open voice and honest sharing, and for reminding all of us what it means to be truly caring.