I found out the other day that because of my political support of a specific candidate that I am pro slavery. This came as quite a surprise to me. I have never owned a slave (even though my children accuse me of working them to death). I have never promoted slavery in any form. I consider the institution of slavery vile and morally reprehensible. How could someone even think that I am pro slavery?
An old high school buddy had posted the blanket statement – anybody that will vote for Mitt must love slavery.
I stewed over the comment for a while, and then decided that I couldn’t let something so egregious go unanswered. I posted – Do you really think that because I support Romney that makes me pro slavery? I fail to see the connection in any way and I'm disturbed that you would make such a racial comparison.
I grew up in southern Kentucky. As a young man racism raised its ugly head in my hometown from time to time. I can still remember gossip and rumors about who belonged to the KKK. However, because I was taught NOT to be racist at home, the entire idea of judging another human being based on the color of their skin seemed ludicrous. I saw it for what it was, an ugly form of dehumanizing an entire race.
I knew when I posted the response I was probably in for some counterattacks, but it wasn’t an issue I was willing to let pass. I knew that my buddy was a fair-minded person and didn’t mind some dissent, but I figured a lot of his friends would probably agree with him. They didn’t disappoint me.
They countered my post with comments about the “divisive nature” of the RNC and how those policies affected the poor. I outlined a few of the RNC policies that he touched on and asked him again if he thought I supported slavery just because I supported Romney. Finally he answered with a simple “No,” but not on the thread itself. The conversation remained pointed, but not uncivil, so I stayed engaged. I was told that “…most whites don’t (understand) and you will never make them understand.” “The Gop’s underlying tone is one of prejudice as a whole.” “Taking back the white house…” was a racial comment. “You can’t get it (meaning that it was impossible for me to understand their plight).” “…they don't teach you the truth about America that Abraham Lincoln aint so honest and George Washington ain't so great…”
After spending a month in Russia (an experience I recommend to anyone that likes to complain about this country), I entered passport control at LAX with two newly adopted daughters and a mountain of paperwork. The lady that helped me was black. Her two coworkers were Asian and Hispanic. They laughed and joked with one another. They were friendly and clearly respected each other. It was an amiable and productive atmosphere.
I interrupted them, and with tears in my eyes, I told them how happy I was to be back in the USA. I went on to explain that over the last month I had been in and out of government offices in Russia where smiles were rare, laughter was unheard of, and diversity was only a word in the dictionary. Watching that everyday scene of mutual respect and ethnic diversity made me proud to be a US citizen.
It is easy to vilify a group because we view the group as impersonal and faceless. When we move from the inhuman group to the individual, it is much more difficult to demonize. That’s why I asked the direct question and made my buddy look me in the eye (speaking figuratively) and tell me that I am pro slavery, which he could not do.
The entire conversation disturbed me. I turned the comments over and over again in my mind trying to come to grips with the feelings of those I disagreed with. How could they possibly feel that way? How could they possibly make that connection?
I posted – If I understand you correctly, I will never “get it” simply because I am white. Does that mean I am automatically racist because I am white?
The philosophy that I, because I am white, can’t possibly be capable of understanding or caring for the black position is the same philosophy that was used to establish the Jim Crow laws of the South. They argued that blacks weren’t smart enough, or clean enough, or civilized enough to occupy the same space as whites. They argued that blacks would never “get it.” If it was bad for blacks, and it most certainly was bad for blacks and our nation, then how is it an appropriate philosophy for blacks to adopt?”
The whole argument seemed like such a non-sequitur to me that it rang absurd. But that wasn’t what they thought or felt, and I wanted to understand why. I couldn’t deny their experiences and feelings any more than they could correctly judge my motives.
I called a friend of mine. He grew up in the bad part of Saint Louis, the youngest of six children to a single mother. He has no idea who is father is. By all odds, he should never have made it, but he did. He is a successful businessman and father. He is a black man married to a white woman. He knows firsthand the struggles that blacks still face in this country.
My friend spoke candidly of his feelings. He still feels mistrusted by many whites, and blacks view him as a sellout. If he speaks like an educated man, people say that he’s a “smooth talker.” If he speaks like someone from “the hood” they view him as uneducated and not to be taken seriously. Even the friendship with his best friend started with a fight over a racial comment. It took them years for them to understand each other. He feels unaccepted in one world, and disenfranchised in the other.
Race is an issue that is charged with emotion because for too many years we haven’t talked about it candidly. We have swept it under the rug and danced around the topic afraid that we would be labeled with ugly names. Slavery ended a long time ago in this country, but we never got the closure we needed. Race issues become politicized and manipulated, but never solved. They affect our interaction in the marketplace, in religion, and in social settings. Racism is still a festering wound that needs to heal once and for all.
If we want to heal the wounds of racism, we must avoid the same mindset that has kept racism in this country alive for way too long. We cannot let our negative experiences with specific individuals taint our view of entire groups. We must avoid assigning a dark motive to everything that happens to us. If we are treated with bias, we must avoid the pitfall of applying the same philosophy of bias that has been used against us. We must carefully examine our lens and keep it free from any tint that might distort the true colors of life.
It’s time we open up and had a frank conversation about our feelings and experiences with racism. I encourage you to sit down with someone of a different race, and really listen to how they feel. Try to empathize with their feelings. Like me, you may not agree with their philosophy or point of view, but you cannot discount their feelings. You cannot deny their experiences any more than they can judge your motives.