Usually when the holiday season rolls around, I like to spend my time as many of you do: Navigating my way through throngs of bitter last minute shoppers, making the case for the Greatest Christmas Movie of All Time, and ragging to friends about how much Christmas music sucks.
But this year, with so much tension and negativity leading into and continuing through the holiday season, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask for a gift from all of you: understanding.
Between Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, African Americans were given a stark reminder that we are still far from the true realization of Dr. Kings dream, and the struggle for real equality is far from over. The protests and movements that sprung up in the aftermath are a step in the right direction. However, the criminal behavior invoked by some in the protests, and especially the recent despicable assassination of two NYPD officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, has threatened to derail a meaningful dialogue about race in America – a conversation that must desperately take place.
It is human nature to pick sides in a conflict, and to stand with those you have most in common with when it seems the world is against you. It is an artifact from the days of cavemen, when staying together in tight-knit groups was the difference between surviving and becoming saber-tooth tiger shit.
Outsiders, early man soon discovered, were probably not coming around your tribe to hang out, but to take your resources to ensure their own survival – resources which, since more often than not you were none too keen to just hand over, required them to take your life as well. Our species has since then huddled together, protecting our own against “The Others”.
As time went on, this trait was no longer helpful. In order to advance as a society, we began to need each other more, as individual tribes had made innovations that all humanity could benefit from. So, groups got bigger, but the inherent fear of “The Other” was still ingrained within us – it was just relaxed to include those who looked similar to us, and mark them as more trustworthy than those who did not.
As time went on and empires rose and fell, it is this primitive relic of evolution that led those in power to create systems to keep those deemed different, scary, “other”, away from those deemed part of the tribe, and to give favorable access to those within it. As such, some groups were able to attain more resources than others, and to look down upon those who had not. These “others” were not simply scary, they were primitive. Uncivilized. Inferior.
And thus, racism was born.
Time has passed since the initial inception of racist attitudes, when the idea that someone is inferior based solely on their skin color was just an accepted concept. But the damage done to minorities during the implementation of this idea is not as easily fixed as a simple declaration. Attitudes must be changed, and the only way to do that is to be willing to accept and learn from other cultures, to extend our empathy and understanding to all people, not just those with whom we have much in common, but to those with which we have very little.
This concept is not exclusive to whites: Minorities must be willing to do the same. We must all – Black, White, Latino and Asian – be willing to sit with a person who, despite not possessing any animosity towards minorities, might have attitudes shaped by cultural homogenization and ignorance, and not instantly write that person off before trying to understand their point of view, even if it is misguided.
When talking about race, we must understand that the dialogue has to be not racially and culturally neutral, but rather racially and culturally inclusive. #blacklivesmatter is an important statement and a true one, but we must understand how someone who can not truly know why that statement is important to us as African Americans could interpret it as an insular and even divisive statement. When we as African Americans engage in discussions about race, we must remember that we are a part of the human race, and that our goal is not only to impart that black lives matter, but that #ALLlivesmatter.
We are living in a time of both great technological and cultural advances, and we have only been able to get to this point as a species through the gathering of collective knowledge and experiences from which all society has benefited. It was the collective effort of people of all races, not just minorities, that allowed us to make progress in tackling the challenge of eradicating racism from society, and it will take all of us – Black, White, Latino and Asian – to finish the job.
As another holiday season heads to a close, I wish that all of us can give the gift of understanding, that we remember that it is only through understanding that our society can cure this disease. This holiday, try to look at things from the perspective of someone whose experience is vastly different than your own. It is a fools errand to be color-blind, but rather, try to find what you have in common, and work your way out from there. It will open you up to experiences, ideas, tastes, sights and sounds you may never have discovered on your own, and will help each and every one of us take one step closer to achieving that seemingly impossible dream of racial equality and tolerance.
And, unlike some other gifts you’ll give this year, it won’t cost you a damn thing.
*Author’s note: In my haste to complete my thought about tolerance and understanding of other races, I neglected to include Native American brothers and sisters, which was an error on my part. I did not simply forget to include them, I actually overlooked them completely, which given the subject, was a terrible oversight on my part.
I’d like to apologize, and correct that oversight here. I’m doing it this way, rather than editing the article, to highlight my own mistake, and to demonstrate that cultural bias is not just a problem for whites, but for all of us, and that recognizing it and understanding why it may be offensive is the only way to fix it. #changethename