Race and America

I appreciated the comments made earlier this week by Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice's African American History Month program. Race is not the only lens by which we can understand American past and present, but it is an essential one. And the perspective of African Americans is a particularly relevant one to grasp, for through it we come to understand that we once marked an entire race to be bought and sold as property, that Americans of all skin colors were willing to march for equality at the risk of life and limb, and that even today we experience crushing disparities in health and economics.

The majority of us are neither out-and-out racists nor perfectly enlightened saints. We know racism is bad and diversity is good, but we are too lazy to make tough choices to "walk a mile" in someone else's shoes. Think of the racial composition of your last social gathering, or of the authors of the last ten books you've read, or of your friends on Facebook. I'm not talking about a social engineering that fulfills the letter of the sentiment but not the spirit; I'm talking about going about our daily routines and then looking back to see the extent to which we have made choices to understand those different from us.

For people of racial privilege, having to see life from someone else's perspective is a luxury we can choose to engage in or not; for people outside of racial privilege, it is a daily reality. If I may disagree with one thing Attorney General Holder said, it is his lament that we have to have an African American History Month at all. At least at this point in my life journey, it is helpful for me to be reminded one month a year about a perspective and story that I should take time and make choices to be more mindful of year round.
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