It’s my last name. I have a lot of emotional attachment to that word. So when that word became an overnight synonym for the race-based pain that to this day cuts fatally into the American soul, yes, it affected me.
Black and white are not the only fault lines–let’s not be so foolish as to commit the same original sin of incorrect binaries that haunt all downstream language. Race in America is every beautiful tone of white, tan, and brown. Ideologies in the United States are represented by every shade in the rainbow of multiculturalism, and then some. We are a tapestry of traditions.
I love this about our country. Within my expected lifetime, white people are not going to comprise the majority of the population anymore. Whites will still make up the largest ethnic class with Latinos continuing as the most rapidly expanding racial and ethnic demographic. When I was a missionary for the LDS Church in Arizona, I was taught that this changing balance of race representation in America is the literal fulfillment of the Book of Mormon prophecy that the Lamanites–the surviving tribe at the end of the narrative–would trample down the white inhabitants of the United States.
There–did you catch it? The way I was taught to conceptualize the Latino population is in implicitly adversarial terms. Them or us. Not enough room for both. This is, far and away, the greatest reason we have racial prejudice: because of the stories we all have about other ethnic groups beyond our own.
Almost every, if not every, binary you think with is doomed to be proven incorrect. Atheist/theist, agnostic/gnostic, spiritual/material, religious/non-religious. Every us/them, objective/subjective binary–it seems–trend to being deconstructed into various parts ignorance or fear.
Our stories frame us to be racist. It is no small work to overcome the personal socialization into hierarchical thinking about race. In the LDS temple, there’s a reason why it’s the blood and sins of your generation that need the deepest cleaning astringent from the gods. The insidiousness and the perniciousness of our racially stratified cultural storytelling is so real, it is woven into the fibers of your brain. Materially. Physically. Yes, the sins of the parents are handed down to their children, for generation after generation, manifested in their brain and body.
It’s easy to diagnose. It’s harder to treat.
On the large scale, nothing feels satisfying enough. How can I directly influence police forces across America to stop killing young black men? That’s where it slips into a feeling of desperate hopelessness to me.
Is reasonable optimism anywhere to be found?
It’s true so far that each generation since the abolition of American slavery has progressively incorporated black Americans. Successive waves of newcomers–be they immigrant populations, or emergent queer communities–go through the same hazing of outsiderness, until enough blood is shed to sway the ingroup toward sympathy-driven rearrangements of power sharing. Why does it take blood? Why can’t the bridges be built faster than the burn rate through human souls? Their lives are filled with as many dreams and feelings of significance as your life is filled with. How can we accelerate the process of healing the violations of centuries?
I don’t have answers. I want answers, though. In the meantime, my work remains to keep my own peace, shine my own light, and love my neighbor without exception. This is work enough to do in the meantime.