Greetings everyone, Just to let you know the Race Story ReWrite Team is conducting a workshop in Tucker, Georgia and March 28, 2015. If you are in the area or know people in the area please encourage them to attend! Also make sure to RSVP.
I was on a conference call recently, reflecting with several folks on how to best dialogue about issues of race in this country. A friend brought up the point that we need to elevate and shine a spotlight on things that are working. In that moment I didn’t give it a lot of thought beyond agreeing that it made sense.
Shortly thereafter my business partner shared with me the feelings of anguish expressed by several Black men in a Facebook group regarding the grand jury decision in Ferguson. She said they seemed hopeless because they felt things would never change. (You can imagine what they are feeling after the no indictment decision in the Eric Garner case.) She was pondering how she might offer them her support. I suggested she just listen and/or ask questions to better understand their feelings. At the time I was thinking that when emotions are so raw, people often respond in the extreme and with absolutes. I suggested that after some time to heal, these men perhaps would become more hopeful. My response to her immediately nagged at me. I thought more deeply about how I, as a Black man, really feel. Deep down do I really believe that the entrenched patterns of racial injustice in this country will ever change?
Almost two years ago Phyllis, Gene and I, with a lot of help from our friends and family, began the process of developing the Race Story Rewrite concept and project. We realized at that point that the rewrite concept was very simple and yet very profound. In the short time since the passing of Mr. Mandela, we’ve realized it on an even deeper level.
Seeing Heaven in the Face of Black Men (www.heaveninthefaceofblackmen.com) was published on August 28, 2009. That is over four years ago and still, when I hear myself say the title out loud, equating the image of heaven with Black men, something inside me just feels good. I remain excited about the possibilities of this image playing a part in changing the image of Black Men in America, from within and from without, as both are important. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ik4vx1pUf0) I said in my book that I will know that America has come a long way on the road to racial healing and justice when we expect to, want to and actually see heaven in the face of Black men. I truly believe progress has been made in that regard and I also believe that the remaining hurdles are foreboding.
The reason I am sharing the video " A Black Woman's Smile" (See below for You Tube version) is because it offers a powerful perspective and aspect of how Black women have been treated and what they have been made to suffer, while at the same time conveying their strength. I don't believe in dwelling on the negative, but I also don't believe in hiding, what I consider, important elements of truth. In this case, truths that can illuminate understanding and that may not be perceived or known by many. Because the video has some sensitive points, I want to qualify a couple things.
So my last two blogs (see racestoryrewrite.com) have been about learning to rid myself of negative expectations when interacting across race, particularly with white men. Because of my experiences, that has been my bugaboo over the years. I mentioned my commitment to treat white folks individually rather than based on past experiences. I also mentioned a specific example of a white male filmmaker (Brian Grimm) who wanted to interview me for his new documentary film Racial Taboo and how my commitment was tested before, during and after the interview.
I recently wrote a blog about my transformation of consciousness regarding how I want to treat White men. In short I had determined that I was not going to allow conditioned responses to past negative experiences dictate how I treat White men I meet in my daily life. I am not going to allow those negative experiences to rob me of my humanity and the person I choose to be. I concluded by implying that I am still a work in progress. Fast forward to the day I met Brian, a white filmmaker who wanted to do a film about race. A good friend of mine who was African American suggested I hear him out. So I did.
The example of touching a hot stove and getting burned has been used over and over again to share the impact of conditioning. The idea is that if you get burned once or twice by a hot stove, the next time you are near a stove you won’t touch it for fear of getting burned yet again. I have had good experiences with White men in my life but I have also had that “getting burned” experience with far too many. Consequently, both consciously and subconsciously, I’ve been leery and suspicious of White men upon first meeting them and would often bring resentments from past experience to that interaction. I’ve been reticent to connect with them without first finding ways to fully “vet” them for racial prejudice. Even if I didn’t find prejudice initially, I felt certain that if our relationship continued it would rear its ugly head, sooner or later. So I would simply remain in a sort of holding pattern, waiting for the shoe to drop.
I continue to think about what has to be different if we are all going to write a new story in race relations. I often come back to realizing we need to tap something much deeper in ourselves if we are going to build sustainable and authentic relationships. I refer to that deeper self as our spirituality. In saying that, I realize spirituality has many different connotations so I thought I would share a perspective on how I view spirituality, particularly since it is central to the ReWrite project.
One of the great realizations I’ve had in my lifetime is learning the distinction between emotionality and spirituality. That distinction became crystal clear to me when my daughter passed away unexpectedly many years ago. I was emotionally devastated yet spiritually at peace. Upon reflection I came to understand how spirituality is a capacity that can help transform emotional pain. I also came to understand how spirituality could play a role in racial healing.
I now believe it is emotionally impossible and spiritually possible to create racial healing, unity and justice in America. What does that mean?
Sometimes I have a hard time shaking nagging feelings. I remember so clearly when Christopher Dorner was in the news and how quickly the story was forgotten. It has been hard for me to forget because there was so much injustice on so many levels yet a major aspect was virtually ignored. Because the part that was ignored represents a dangerous example of institutional racism I felt a need to revisit the story.
Even though we live in a different day and time than did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many believe we need to stop referring “back” to the civil rights movement I think it is worthwhile to examine the manner in which he led to see if there is any relevance for the current struggle for racial healing and justice. Yes there are more nuances and subtleties to deal with than at that time and generations have passed, but it may be a mistake to relegate Dr. King to simply an important historical figure.
Now that the trial of George Zimmerman is upon us it is worth taking a fresh look at the circumstances surrounding the tragic shooting of Trayon Martin. I reflected for a long time about what I might do if I felt there were “suspicious” looking folk walking around my neighborhood.
Much progress in race relations has occurred in my lifetime. However there is a recurring theme in this country that remains a sad reminder of what still needs to change with regard to race and racism. I have observed over months how the Newtown murders were covered in the news and how other similar murders are covered when they involve people of color.