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To end racism, we need to get to know one another

In Our Opinion


January 11, 2018

As we approach the Martin Luther King holiday — with some people actually getting Monday, Jan. 15, off — it’s appropriate to take a look at how Americans perceive the current state of race relations.

That perception is not good, with statistics varying depending upon which organization is doing the research.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted Nov. 29 – Dec. 4, 2017 among 1,503 adults found that 60 percent of Americans believe race relations have grown worse. A similar poll in November 2016 showed 46 percent felt this way.

A June 2017 Rasmussen poll indicated 38 percent of Americans felt race relations had grown worse.

Another Pew survey on Aug. 29, 2017, indicated a growing number of Americans were beginning to see racism as a “big problem” again. Historical data in that survey showed 54 percent of Americans felt this way in June 1996, but just 26 percent did so in January 2009.

By July 2015 that was back up to 50 percent and by August 2017 it had reached 58 percent.

These polls also indicate that perceptions of the current state of race relations depend upon the demographic. In the recent Pew survey, 38 percent of Republicans or those leaning Republican felt race relations were worsening, vs. 45 percent in May 2016, while 49 percent of similar Democrats felt this way, vs. 32 percent in 2016.

Not surprisingly, more blacks than whites felt race relations were worsening, 51 percent to 41 percent. Also, 50 percent of Hispanics — a forgotten demographic in this discussion — felt relations were getting worse.

These last stats underscore an area of race relations we feel sometimes gets overlooked in all of the hoopla — and that is to appreciate different people, we have to first be able to share their experiences as they do.

In other words, we have to be in their shoes. This is at best difficult to do, and most likely impossible.

Whites, blacks, Hispanics and those of other skin colors might be able to share the experience of what it feels like to be economically depressed, to be deprived of opportunities because of finances. But we will most likely never be able to share what it feels like to be denied economic and educational advances because of the color of our skin.

We will never be able to share what it feels like to be eyed with suspicion because we are darker than the person doing the eyeing. We might be able to know what it’s like being prejudiced against because of beliefs shared and passed down through the generations because of experiences with our family, clan or ethnic group. These are difficult to overcome —just ask the Irish, Italians or Germans who came to this country in waves in the 19th and 20th centuries.

But not the prejudices and stereotypes derived through skin color.

Part of the problem is our country got off to a bad start. We hear much in history classes about those who came here willingly to escape persecutions, famines and other threats at home.

We forget that we live next to millions of people whose ancestors came here against their will — shackled and chained into the holds of ships, viewed more as economic units than human beings. But as King said in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, some of those who brought blacks here as slaves also signed a “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir” when they created and signed the Declaration of Independence and later the U.S. Constitution.

“This note was a promise that all men — yes, black men as well as white men — would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” King added.

Those words linked us all together, yesterday, today and into the future. King saw this as well on that Aug. 23 day in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“For many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny,” King said.

The only way to overcome racism is to understand this link, and act upon it by getting to know each other through engagement. Get outside our comfort zone, our shells, our safe molds and get involved with each other, in our communities small and large, and start to learn what it’s like being each other.


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