Whenever the issue of racism pops up it’s ugly head in our public discourse, I get tons of messages from genuinely concerned Americans asking me what the solution is to our race problems. There isn’t one solid answer and I frankly don’t believe there can ever be a such thing as ending racism. This would have to mean a complete overhaul of the human condition and in millennia of human existence only one person has proven capable of doing that, and no one’s seen that dude for a while (although some are saying he might ride in on this solar eclipse!).
However, this does not mean we can’t all be working toward fighting as much of it as we can. A lot of people think fighting racism and division means finding something big to do. The real progress comes when people are willing to take up the little tasks, the ones that don’t bring glory or accolades or get you a fawning Twitter following. Here a few simple things every American can try to help bridge the racial divide.
- Turn off social media for a while. As stupid as this sounds, you’ll be amazed at how much rage is drained from your body when you can’t see the constant bickering and aren’t reading a steady stream of sad, horrifying stories. It will give you a chance to look around you and view things in reality instead of through a screen. I’m not suggesting you live in ignorance, but a break from the onslaught of stories and images can really reset your panic meter and make you an easier person to dialogue with when you’re ready to dive back in.
- Listen without talking. Ok, I admit this one is really tough for me. I’m a talker…the worst kind – the opinionated kind. I’m often waiting for a chance to express my oh-so-important take on an issue. It is especially difficult to keep quiet when someone is making ridiculous points based on emotion rather than information. Often the most persuasive argument is the one you don’t make while you’re listening to the one you can’t stand. Listen to your “foe” and summarize what you’re hearing back to them before you respond. This is a technique you learn in marriage counseling and it is extremely effective. Minds might not be changed, but respect can be gained and sometimes that’s a huge step to take toward healing…or heeling. Whatever.
- Be okay with not “getting it”. We all want to be right. Sometimes we have to be willing to just let the other person be “right”, even if they might not be. It’s okay to say, “You know, I guess I just really don’t understand but I’m okay with that. And I promise to keep trying.”
- Give people space to say the hard things. Race is a touchy subject. We can’t ask other people to seriously consider our own issues if we aren’t willing to give them space to say the hard things. If someone is taking the risk to tell you what their racial hangups and prejudices are, don’t shame them for it. That immediately shuts down the conversation. As hard as it is to hear, let them express it. You can’t refute what you haven’t heard.
- Extend some grace. Grace means making the decision not to treat someone the way they deserve to be treated. This is what God does for us every day. Try doing this in your day-to-day dealings and see how it changes your heart. Extend some grace to your kids, your spouse, the rude cashier or the racist next door. I am living proof that making the effort can make all difference in living peacefully with people who aren’t like us.
- Engage in charity. Racism isn’t a skin issue. It’s a heart issue. Nothing softens the heart like putting others before yourself. It may not be a direct approach to ending racism, but it will make you more sensitive to everything around you and give you perspective; something today’s discussions are sorely missing on all sides. Serving people you might never interact with, or even find repulsive can be very instructive in the area of tolerance.
- Keep a sense of humor. Even in the grimmest of personal tragedies you will find instances of laughter and good humor. ‘Laughter is the best medicine’ isn’t a cliche for nothing. Don’t ridicule, keep sarcasm as low as you can (another difficult task for me) and be willing to laugh at yourself.
- Be a gift-giver. When we were struggling with our racist neighbors who wouldn’t allow our children to play together because we’re black, I still made the effort to grit my teeth and extend some grace. I would drop a tiny bag of candy on their doorstep for their daughter on Halloween, or a Christmas card with a pleasant note during the holidays. One day they said thank you…and sent a gift back. Yup. True story. We never got an apology and I’ll never expect one, but we are friendly and so are our kids. We made our enemies our friends simply by choosing grace over rage (not as easy as I’m making it sound).
- Don’t expect an apology. Just like I did in the previous point, you can’t go into any dialogue expecting an apology. It will only make you angry when you don’t get it. Sometimes you just don’t get one. That’s okay. Apologies are more about our own pride than actual progress anyway. Make yourself okay with never getting one from the person who hurt you. Again, this is another thing that can change your heart and build perspective, directly and indirectly.
- Give up your right to be offended. What are you willing to do to end hate? Anything? Or do you just mean anything that doesn’t require you to sacrifice your pride? This is all along the lines of extending grace. What would race relations in America look like if we all gave up our right to be offended? This is probably the toughest thing to do for all of us, but it could change everything if enough of us were brave enough to try.