OK, folks, time to try our best to put our feet in someone else’s shoes. It will be good for you. Because if you are able to have any ability to see the world from another’s perspective, maybe we wouldn’t be tracking down innocent people out for a run and shooting them because their skin is darker than the majority’s here in the United States.
So, imagine, if you can, your son tells you he’s going out for a run. It’s a healthy thing to do, minimal risk, nice day, sure, honey, be careful. Typically, that would mean watch for traffic. Or don’t trip on the broken sidewalk. It probably wouldn’t occur to most of us to tell our kids to keep an eye out for white men with guns out for a drive looking for some “colored” kid to murder.
But if you’re black in the United States, that is reality. I have no idea how we got here. What is it about skin color? Why not hate people because they’re fat, or have blue eyes, or they’re nerdy?
So, back in those other shoes: if you’re black, you know that a substantial percentage of white folks who don’t even know you, nevertheless, hate you. You don’t know which ones (until, maybe, it’s too late because you’re lying face down in a pool of blood). But you know they hate you.
What do you do with that? You can’t ignore it, figuring you can’t do anything about it anyway because, if you aren’t alert you might get shot. You can’t stay in your “black” neighborhood because those same people who might shoot you will also deny you access to the resources needed to make your neighborhood viable. You do, after all, have to work and pay your bills. But, in your interview, you can’t hate them back because they’ll recognize that look on your face and will assume you’re an angry black person and then they won’t hire you.
I’m sure most of us white folks harbor no intended racism. We certainly understand that racism is a bad thing. But, you see, there is an implicit form of racism, born of ignorance. In the belief that slavery is over and that the laws say discrimination is wrong, then racism must be over.
We don’t understand that us white folks send our kids to white suburban schools where they have all the tools, expectations, support and resources; meanwhile, the kids of color go where there isn’t any money, no expectations and no hope.
We don’t seem to understand that, while we no longer have whites only water fountains, there are whites only country clubs, whites only neighborhoods, whites only churches, whites only nonprofit boards of directors, whites only “C suites.”
Slowly, though, the rules are changing and the culture with it. Our corporations understand the value of diversity and they’re working on it. Voters are voting for people regardless of their color. The Chamber of Commerce has diversity councils. The school superintendents know how unfair school funding formulas are. Young people are far more tolerant than their parents were, giving us hope for the future.
Here in the Lehigh Valley, a wide range of organizations are working on a strategic plan for the region that will be designed to bring more respect for diversity, more inclusion of everyone, regardless of how they look, and equity, finally, in the marketplace. White, black, Latino, male, female, young, old, born here, moved here, educated, not, conservative, liberal are working on this plan together. The project is called “Color Outside the Lines.” Contact Kumari Ghafoor-Davis at CACLV (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’re interested in being a part of it.
I know that the alienation that seems so common these days, the feeling that the world is passing you by, the sense that your parents were the last generation to have a better life than their parents is real. It doesn’t spare any demographic. Yes, white men are being left behind, too. They resent it. And they are finding voice in an all-too-willing-to-set-ourselves-against-each-other president.
But you’re looking at it all wrong. That alienation is a form of despair. Let’s take a minute to think: maybe this isn’t us versus them. Maybe we can all be better if we stop looking for ways to divide and start looking for ways to unite. Multiplication makes for a better society than division. Stop the scapegoating, stop trying to make progress by standing on the face of someone who has the same hopes. Stick your feet in their shoes. Pass your shoes on to someone who could learn a lot to stand in them. And let’s work together to make this world a place that every single one of us knows could be so much better.