Twenty-five years after Rodney King asked his immortal question, I spend every day interrogating it. This is what I have come to understand:
America was founded on a racial hierarchy that is baked into our laws, government, economy, communities, institutions, minds, and way of life.
Fifty years after a very successful movement to ban discrimination, we have yet to have a national process to reconcile with our history, to come to a shared understanding of who benefitted and who was harmed.
We have not acknowledged the harm nor tried to repair it.
As a result of our failure to examine and rectify our history, we are all today continuously damaged by it: white people living in denial that we have anything to do with this history or benefitted from it, living with blinders on; people of color with the hurt that it caused and the anticipation that no matter what they do, the hurt will continue.
While white Americans cling to the myth of rugged individualism, that everything we have is a result of our hard work, we have created a whole system of policies that work almost invisibly to support our wealth creation that we then pass on to our children.
We seek to live in all white neighborhoods and send our children to all white schools, all while claiming we “don’t have a racist bone in our body, we just want what’s best for our children.”
And we are right- resource rich neighborhoods with high quality schools and parks and health care do set our children up for success.
Meanwhile, these same policies concentrate people of color in neighborhoods with few resources. Their houses do not appreciate, their kids schools are underresourced, and they often don’t have access to the kind of jobs white people have, jobs that allow us to accumulate wealth.
As a result of segregation, interracial social networks become rare, hardening implicit racial bias and stereotypes.
We don’t share experiences and social capital with each other and we don’t develop trust.
Then when we do encounter each other, there is so much going on in our brains that it often makes the encounters awkward and results in further retreat and animosity.
We stop communicating interracially and pretty much communicate only with people with whom we are comfortable.
This is why we aren’t getting along.
We need to learn how to get along. Already, children of color make up the majority, and by 2044, white people will be the minority.
We need each other, we need to learn how to treat each other with respect and stop this endless cycle.
What will it take for us to get along?
· A national and local racial reconciliation and healing process where we come to a shared understanding of what happened, who was harmed, and who benefitted.
· Reparations to the harmed.
· White people sharing our power and resources equitably with people of color and working alongside each other to dismantle systemic barriers to success.
· White people developing the humility to listen and to change and to not pass racial myths to our children.
The truth is, the government can’t mandate us to get along. The choice has to be made by us. From us changing ourselves, our relationships, our sphere of influence, the change that needs to happen in society will occur.
Then we will all get along- and it will be beautiful.
Karen Fleshman is a Racial Equity Trainer and Government Accountability Activist. Her mission is to build and support a community of people committed to love, learning, accountability, and action on race in America. www.karenfleshman.com @fleshmankaren