Dear Dr. Hwang:
“When discussing race and racism with White people, is it our responsibility to remain neutral, patient, understanding and kind?”
Too often, we demonize or marginalize individuals or groups of humans that seem different. We default to false judgments about people because it suits us emotionally. We also grow defensive to protect an insatiable need to remain, “Happy.” We’ve created a distorted illusion that good people feel good most of the time. This is hardly ever the case. Good people, feel good, bad and in between on any given day.
Oddly enough, while judging others may stabilize us short-term. Long-term, those of us with a conscious and some age based developmental framework of ethics, ultimately refuse to be comforted by fixed subjectivity over the greater good. Most of us invest in advancing the human race towards more peaceful resolutions.
We live in a global and national society where the perception of being wrong runs counterintuitive to building a healthy ego. Too often, we don’t realize that our egos are in a constant state of flux. We simply cannot control for everything and most days, we can’t control hardly anything. Individuals work zealously to avoid feeling bad. Meanwhile, we strive to maintain a homeostatic and healthy self-image.
When we misperceive that something may compromise our state of perceived stability, some of us move to a fight or flight response. Personally and professionally, our reactions matter. Human reactions impact humans. We are blessed and cursed with decisions each day to rise to what’s possible or get swallowed whole in a reactionary sewer. While an impulsive response may occur mentally, maturity and psychological thought begs us to interact versus react.
When topics like: race, racism, ethnicity and human suffering surface some of us have been fortunate to develop some skill sets which help us stay neutral, patient, understanding and even kind. Some of us move to an immediate defensive or even hostile posture. In an effort to protect images or ideas we’ve constructed, we resist, kick, scream and deny information that humans continue to fail humans, which deserves reflection and affirmation. Do people of color tire of explaining the same struggles day after day, century after century? Yes.
Of course we do! We are humans. Does exhaustion about racism give us permission to react versus interact? For every action there is an equal or counter reaction. Whether we like it or not, advancement must manifest itself through positive communication that is kind and forgiving. Is it fair? Maybe it isn’t?
However we choose to handle what’s referred to as, “Difficult Dialogues about Racism,” or “Courageous Conversations,” rests in our abilities to withstand and transcend intense systematic racism with integrity and dignity. Everyone has burdens. But, having the opportunity to deconstruct the burden or trauma of racism for the next generation means withstanding distress, being the grown up and collectively doing what we can so that history does not repeat itself.
What’s bad for all of us is to maintain a posture of unrelenting rigidity. It’s hard to open up our hearts because we risk being hurt. We also risk not being loved.
When we close ourselves off to understanding versus judgment, compassion versus righteousness, we often do more harm than good. While it may not be intentional, the effects are real and the unfortunate reality of racism remains global. I’d like to believe that engagement in healthy and respectful conversations is everyone’s responsibility.
Conversations about human suffering and people responsible are undoubtedly controversial. Conflicting viewpoints are too often misperceived as negative. Conflict versus sameness presents an opportunity to stretch our minds and hearts differently, until we one day we become adept at process versus outcome.
Neuropsychologists claim that new neural pathways are created when we learn something new, which likely contributes to increased cognitive abilities and emotional experiences. When you physically work out, your body becomes strong. Your mind also strengthens when you create endless opportunities to be creative, to experience love, to think divergently and engage in multiple problem solving strategies.
Your question, while about race and racism sounds more like a question about interpersonal skills and vulnerability versus the topics at hand.
Content that is close to our hearts makes us increasingly susceptible to wounds. Yet, if we don’t begin a process of openness, any content will be a challenge to discuss. Then, we risk non-resolution. Content is not the same as accusation. If we focus the ongoing discussions that serve to move us incrementally, over time and together, the emotional charge may dissipate enough to allow growth.
We can resign ourselves to ignorance and remain hardened, but it rarely serves the human condition or moves us sociologically towards global harmony.