The tragic events of August 9th in Ferguson, Missouri shocked a community and galvanized a nation. With the president calling for reflection and understanding, moments of silence and images of solidarity came pouring out of Howard and Harvard, Washington D.C. and Times Square.
The death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, at the hands of police speaks to the historical legacy of racism in America. It is a legacy with tragic implications for people of color in our society today, particularly youth of color. Incidents like this can lead to a state of helplessness and frustration – in the face of pervasive systemic inequity, what can any individual, organization, institution, or faith community do to effect change?
Talk About Race
The president’s remarks on the subject offer a clue. In a written statement, he asserted that "We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds."
Productive dialogue about race is the way forward, the place where every individual can begin. But it is also the place where people are most wary, and most uncertain around how to get started. Particularly in cross-cultural conversation or among people from differing racial and ethnic backgrounds, we have very few models for how to talk about race that don't leave people feeling blamed, misunderstood, or simply not heard.
Once grounded in an understanding of the system of racial inequity and guided by multiple stories, the conversation shifts from the anecdotal or individual toward an understanding of the foundations of each of our experiences. When we contextualize these experiences of racialized behavior, up to and including incidents of police violence against young men of color, as the product of a system in which we are all involved, they become our collective responsibility to understand and resolve.
When we are able to engage with each other productively, as members of an interconnected community, we gain the ability to build the world in which we want to live. Contemplation, silence, and love for the losses of Ferguson and elsewhere are appropriate, necessary responses. But after the moment of silence: we must heal ourselves, by beginning to speak.
How To Begin
World Trust offers diversity and inclusion training materials designed to facilitate productive dialogue toward racial equity and peace. To learn more about the ways in which our work supports transformative learning and social change through conversation, please click here.