Until the Trayvon Martin episode, racial inequity in America pretty much simmered below the surface. People had their opinions and feelings about it but, as a nation we weren't really talking about it.
Now, we're talking about it all across the country. Last weekend, rallies and vigils took place in more than 100 locations. Politicians and other leaders -- even ordinary citizens -- are saying 'they' should institute policies and programs to even out the opportunities.
Well, with the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the Voting Rights Act, it's obvious that, while political solutions are essential, they aren't necessarily lasting, and they cannot change attitudes driving the day-to-day personal encounters between races; the slights, the denial of jobs and advancement, and so on.
A growing number of black and white people are agreeing it's time to find a lasting solution, and it has to involve ordinary people. Pres. Obama and Sen. McCain have both called for conversations on every level from legislators to civic leaders, to neighbors and friends. CNN anchor Chris Cuomo called for a national examination of attitudes, and conversations in order to begin understanding each other.
Changing the racial inequity we may have been advancing requires huge changes in our core values, but how can we effect change when we can't even look each other in the eye?
Why Should We Change?
It is essential for privileged white people to answer the question, 'Why should I give up any of my power and privilege? I'm pretty comfortable, myself.' The same question, 'Why should I?' also applies to underprivileged blacks who, underneath the rage and frustration they express, may be simply reluctant to open themselves up to the possibilities of additional pain and disappointment.
Knowing that any of our young people, or any of us older folks for that matter, could be subject to a similar fate as Trayvon Martin, and with the unspoken, but certainly real, possibility of violent eruptions nationwide if progress is not made, it behooves each and every one of us to decide to take part in leading us to a better way.
But for every single American, the most compelling reason to begin trying to change, is probably for our children. Rather than leaving them this huge racial problem as generations before us have left, we can leave them the gift of a slowly improving society, moving toward equal opportunities for everyone.
Fifty percent of our global population now is under 25 years of age; they are watching us, and they don't like what they see; from every corner of the world, they said so on August 12 this year, at the UN International Youth Day. "Nothing can stop us from dreaming," said one young woman.
The Most Powerful Conversations
The question at this point is, what sort of conversations would be effective? All too often conversations across divides tend to wind up in shouting matches -- each side interested in making their own point -- with virtually no one listening to really understand the other's perspective.
When contemplating such huge shifts as core values and beliefs, the most powerfully effective conversations begin within ourselves, in our own minds. And they are the best conversations because they tend, eventually, to be totally honest.
In changing our thinking about other people (not only races; anyone we may see as different from us), we have to remove labels and adjectives so that we just see them as people, without the labels. Listen to your own inner voice; don't you hear judgements about everyone you may think about?
We each have to begin building respect and trust among us; only then will we have the courage to look each other in the eye, and begin to understand each other.
Internal dialogs are powerful but they're not enough. We must also develop skills in conflict resolution and negotiation, but it all starts with our own self-talk.
Change is scary and difficult; the payoff is that, as we begin finding the better way, we start leading our youth to finding it also, and they may change the entire social order of America. That will be our legacy. I'm ready to begin, and hope you are too.