I woke up this morning to a new realization and my excitement about the racial awakening in America is waning because of it.
I had a dream of a false start in a race: One runner jumps out in front of the others before the gun sounds, and they’re all brought back to the starting line. No arguing, no finger-pointing — just making sure no one keeps an unfair advantage. The fair thing to do is have them all start over.
I woke up with the question: How do you bring a whole country back to the starting line?
Certainly, many long-avoided conversations are happening. Which is great. But will meaningful action follow?
Among other things, we have lots of people reading “White Fragility” and learning about privilege—but will they be willing to lay down any of that privilege? What happens when they realize making the country fairer requires stripping away that which has made their lives more comfortable? Will anybody make that trade?
And where is the book for “Middle-Class Black Fragility”? What about us who have “overcome” and made it to a more comfortable place in society and life? Any of us willing to lay down some of what we have to help our brothers and sisters who haven’t arrived yet?
I hear and read, perceive and anticipate differing responses to this interrogative.
For sure, to get along better we need conversations and book studies that foster understanding. But to tear down the effects of structural, institutional racism requires large-scale policy changes that will be uncomfortable for those who either benefit from the current system or have figured out how to avoid the banana peels and make the system work for them.
What happens once it becomes clear that in order to fund schools more equitably money must be diverted from your neighborhood? How about in order for banks to loan money more equitably to everyone my interest rate might have to increase? In order for the minority co-worker to get the promotion they deserve I have to stay at my current position and current salary. What then? In order to teach kids more accurate history I have to let go of romanticized revisionist stories I grew up with and that made me comfortable.
How many people are truly ready to make these decisions? It appears to me that until we are ready to make them in every sphere of life, we will not be able to reset this country. We will fail again to make it truly fair and equitable.
Without a reset we will continue to settle for slightly better. Remember, Reconstruction was slightly better than slavery. Jim Crow was slightly better than Reconstruction. The Civil Rights Era made it slightly better than…. When will we jump off this cycle? When will we turn down what is better in search of what is right?
The real challenge is that to do so, we each must answer the question: What am I willing to give up? It is way too easy to demand fairness but insist that someone else give something up to achieve it.
It makes me think of a different kind of race. In an African fable, a group of kids are given a competition. Whichever one of them can run fastest to a basket will win all the sweets inside. When the gun sounds, they hold hands and walk to the basket, preferring to share the prize. When questioned, they simply ask, “How can one of us be happy if the others are sad? Each of us embraces the philosophy that I Am because We Are.”