Healing the Racial Divide

We live in unsettling times. As our nation prepares for the peaceful transition of power to a newly elected President, millions of Americans are still reeling from the most negative and divisive presidential campaign in modern history. Unlike traditional partisan shifts in power, this election has millions of Americans worried about the future of our democracy, the safety of their families and the civility of our culture. This unsettling feeling is especially poignant for people of color for whom the racialized nature of our politics has escalated both in its toxicity and in its frequency.

Our nation’s race relations are fractured, leaving people and our nation with wounds that must be healed. That healing is essential for our nation to fulfill its ideals as a thriving multi-racial democracy fueled common goals and shared purpose.

So, when Garry Civitello phoned into CSPAN during my guest appearance, asking for advice on how to deal with his prejudice—how to “become a better American”—to say I was caught off guard would be an understatement. But thanks to Garry’s courage, we were able to have one of the most honest conversations about race I’ve ever had on television—and from the over 8 million people that have viewed our interaction since, it’s fair to say it is among the most honest that has ever been seen on TV before.  

After prolonged moments of racial tension in this country, inevitably there are calls for a “time of healing,” to restore our peace and faith in one another. Yet, healing requires the acknowledgment of a wound and of the wounded. When Garry called into the show, he recognized that his prejudice towards black people and our communities was hurting himself and others. He shared his pain and wanted help finding how to let go of the prejudice that sickened his heart.

Following the election of President Obama, we were so quick to dub ourselves a “post-racial society” that we skipped straight over the wound and onto the stage to congratulate ourselves on our racial progress. Yet, it wasn’t long after the first black President’s inauguration that the calls of a post-racial America proved ridiculously premature, as our racial struggles were magnified on the world’s stage as our new president and his family claimed the White House. 

As a nation, we need to own our prejudice and acknowledge that—as Garry explained during our first fateful conversation—the media and politics have created a corrosive narrative about the black community that in the absence of friendships across race is the only experience on which most white Americans can draw upon. These prejudices and biases are a barrier to our healing—obstructing the shared experiences and dialogue necessary for authentic dialogue and relationships.

On January 17th the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and their Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation enterprise will lead along with 130 partner organizations including Demos, a day of racial healing. In order for us to not tear each other down, we must first learn how to hear each other and see each other for who we are and what we represent. This day is a direct response to the rhetoric that has grown more divisive and violent over the past several months. This national day of healing will take place across the country with workshops, activities and more that help people come to the table with no judgment and instead with a mindset to heal and move forward together.

Regardless of who is in the White House, how we move forward as a country is really about us, the people. We have two options – to fall victim to our own protective bubbles, the ones that feed us the information that we want to hear; or we can seek to heal ourselves by creating spaces for open and authentic conversations with people who are ready and willing to listen and speak their truth, regardless of how painful. Once we understand the underlying pain then – and only then – can we begin the arduous work of closing the wound, and truly healing.

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