Good Luck

September 20th, 2020
L&T Opinions Page

earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt


Early in our marriage, Heather and I struggled to communicate, and it wasn’t until we attended a Christian marriage seminar that we learned to understand each other better.

I have been talking with some people of color recently in an effort to better understand why the two sides are so far apart, and I quickly learned that I was having just as much difficulty communicating with them as I had with trying to talk with my wife years ago.

While we were each sharing valid points, we didn’t seem to be hearing what the other side was saying.

The biggest problem I have learned in reaching out to people of color who see the world very differently than I do was basically a language barrier.

We speak the same language, we use the same words, but they come across so differently.

I fell into the typical position of just wanting to solve the problem.

If it were easy, it would have been solved long ago. It’s not easy, and my push for a solution missed a very important step to the healing process.

I had to listen — not offer a solution, not try to solve the problem — listen.

Slavery is something I have studied in textbooks. I have seen the cruelty through photos of Blacks that were whipped by their owners. I agree like most White people do that slavery was wrong and never should have taken place.

That’s not enough.

I have listened to the pain in the voices of people of color today who don’t look at the photos as part of history but a burden they carry with them to this day.

You won’t see it, but the stripe that was buried into the skin of a slave is a scar that has been passed down for generations.

The pain of being a captive people didn’t end with the Civil War, or the right to vote, or the end of segregated schools or even with the civil rights movement.

Our Black neighbors carry with them a bruise that will never go away.

It’s not reparations through a check they want. And it’s not revenge, at least that’s not the feel I have been getting. I’m sure there are a select few that would like revenge just like there are a select few of White people who still practice racism. Neither of them should be driving the conversation.

Historic pain may be more like post traumatic stress disorder. It never goes away. All you can do is learn to live with it.

In my zeal to find a solution to racial challenges, I was overlooking the very simple answer.

I can’t take that pain away, but what I can do is try to understand it.

As I pushed for a way to move beyond slavery, to look for a better future, I realized I was trying to tell a Vietnam veteran to forget what they saw, or a Holocaust survivor to simply forget the gas chambers ever existed.

The reason they see systemic racism is because they see the indifference we show to the never-ending pain. When an act of racism occurs, like what we saw in Minneapolis, it is proof to them that they are still being persecuted for the color of their skin just as the slave was 160 years ago. It cuts that historic wound open, and when we try to limit it to that single act, they see us as justifying the misunderstanding of the pain of the past and its influence on our present.

I’m not justifying violence, looting or rioting. Those are wrong no matter what.

But those who have reached out to me to have a conversation about race are looking for understanding, for an advocate, an ally that won’t try to just put the past in the past but will try to understand the raw emotion.

When my daughter’s basketball team lost at state when she was a sophomore, she didn’t need me to give her a pep talk. She didn’t need me to point out what went wrong. She just needed me to gather her in my arms and love her through the pain.

Our Black community needs to know that, too. We don’t have the answers, and the pain they have may never go away. But we should leave no doubt in their minds that we love them and respect them as people. They need our encouragement and to know they are not simply being ignored.

Just as we need them not to judge us based on the actions of a few, we need them to know their history wasn’t fair, and we understand how it still affects their lives today.

I am learning that it is not just what they are saying but how they are saying it that is important.

It doesn’t matter that I perceive myself as not a racist. If I show no compassion to their very real pain, does it really matter to them?

If ever the story of the Good Samaritan applies, it is here. The difference back then is the Samaritan could see the bruises.

Believe me, those bruises are still there today for our Black community. They have to know we care.

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