Germantown behavior health specialist Lorenzo Woodson opens up about his frustrations as a black man in NW Philly, and suggests ways we can learn to interact more across racial divides.
I cannot put myself in the position of a white man and their thoughts, feelings and behaviors or understand their world views. But I do know I’m not happy being invisible when I am the only black person in a room of white people. The feelings I get in these situations are of caution, mistrust and hate mixed with black pride.
White society does not realize the historical damage caused by their hiding, minimizing and profiting from black contributions for centuries. And all the lies and deceits needed to support their privileged position. As a black man with hopes and dreams and aspirations that have been perpetually undermined by explicit or implicit racism, it makes me and many blacks feel at times vengeful and hateful toward the system of power and those associated with it — especially those acting as if this bigoted system does not exist.
In American society when we speak of racism we are distracted by the real issue of power, control and influence over wealth and resources by a specific white class. This white class has an established cultural identity of superiority — but in order to be superior, others must be seen as inferior.
Supremacy of any so-called race is a myth of course. White culture must make an effort to overcome a vast legacy of fear and social programming to truly accept this. The truth however is that while obviously people of color will immediately benefit from a more inclusive society – so will whites. We all have collective damages and traumas from our shared history. Let’s face this together with truth and honesty.
It is time for whites who have benefited for centuries from Black ingenuity and free slave labor to open their eyes and speak truth to power about their broken historical, all-encompassing, corrupt, violent, unfair, exclusionary system. It is time for this generation and future generations to find ways to begin to heal the centuries and decades of an ugly racist history and to show courage by eradicating the term “Race.” New generations can show that they are better by rejecting even the vestiges of prejudice and repression.
Finally, white society and their families would benefit morally by cleaning their houses of hate, bias, fear and isolationist thinking that is holding you back from experiencing the many joys of multicultural life. I urge you to abandon your “safe circles” and seek out meaningful relationships with people of color. Call other white people out when they’re being racist. Practice saying, “I don’t agree with those sentiments” in your families, in your social circles, in the broader community.
Say hello when you pass people of color on the street. Spark up conversations around the neighborhood and on public transportation. Don’t be afraid to talk politics, either – but not to argue. The goal is to connect: listen and empathize. Keep an open mind. Ask questions. Don’t get weird about being “p.c.” – instead, welcome the opportunity to apologize when you’ve offended someone and learn from your experience moving forward.
Try not to take racial/social criticisms about America personally – and resist the urge to stop black people from expressing their anger and frustration at the rigged and hurtful system that still exists in our country. Facing the truth is not always pleasant, but it’s an opportunity to get educated, practice humility, and build authentic relationships that can help us create a just and inclusive society.
Read Dr. Woodson’s last column here.