Ferguson Reveals the Ugly Wound in America

Like most Americans, I watched the news events unfolding in Ferguson, MO in shock and disbelief.  What happened there reveals an ugly wound in American culture that might not be news to black Americans, but probably is to white Americans. And that is a huge part of the problem.

It would be very easy to be able to say the problem is in Ferguson, MO. Shooting an unarmed teenage and then leaving his body to lie in the street for ours was despicable. But the fact is that it could have happened almost anywhere in the USA. I have lived on the east coast, the west coast and in the Midwest and the location doesn’t matter.

Cartoon

Credit: Ben Sargent for this eye opening cartoon

Racism is alive and well in our country. And the fact that most white Americans don’t see it is a great example of white privilege. The fact of the matter is that we do NOT live in a color blind culture. And frankly, I’m not convinced that this is the goal anyway. So let’s stop pretending and let’s start talking.

When many white Americans hear the words ‘white privilege,’ we get defensive or go to denial or feel guilty, but these responses will not heal the American race wound. What will help is for white Americans to feel empathy for black Americans. You know the saying, ‘you can’t know someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes,’ well this is what I am talking about. Until we as a people can embrace both black and white experiences, how can we begin to understand each other? And the fact is that too many white Americans cannot even begin to understand much less empathize with black Americans.

The Question in St. Louis County: Can Whites Empathize With Blacks by Sally Kohn

When white Americans begin to understand and internalize what it is like for black Americans to participate in a society in which no matter how hard they work or how smart they are, they are still seen for the color of their skin before they are seen for their abilities or accomplishments then we will start to heal some of the divide that separates us as a country.

Two times in my life I have had the opportunity to participate in a very powerful exercise that shows this in very clear terms. It is sometimes called the “Privilege Walk Exercise.”

This exercise illustrates that race trumps economics in our culture and that no matter what advantages black Americans may have, they are still black in America and as such they do not enjoy the same privileges and advantages that white Americans do. The converse is also true: no matter what economic status a white American adult has, they/we always have an unfair advantage in our country because of white privilege. Period. And just because you don’t see it, doesn’t make it untrue.

For a great explanation on the “Privilege Walk Exercise” please read The Exercise that Opened up my Eyes to White Privilege by Jill Anne. Jill Anne’s reaction was similar to most white Americans. It is eye-opening and disturbing and hopefully motivating.

This wound can be healed. I have seen it happen when my (then) teenage son participated in a yearlong leadership program to teach black and Jewish teens in St. Louis about each others’ cultures. The teens learned how to come together and problem-solve the issues that racism and anti-semitism cause in their own lives. It was heart-warming to participate as a parent, and it was inspiring to watch the teens go through this process. We need more programs like this in our country.

I have assembled a great (short) list of fabulous news stories, blogs and even video that will make your blood boil, even if they are not news to you. The first video is a wonderful social experiment and I am grateful that these two young men took the time to risk putting it together.

Social Experiment: White Guy Breaking into A Car vs a Black Guy Breaking into A Car (Take a Guess What Happens)

Why I Fear for My Sons by Kimberley Norwood

Pastor Matt Chandler Speaks Up About ‘White Privilege’ by Jeffrey Scott

Thank you to my dear friend, Jeanne Townsend who has posted most of these stories on Facebook.

So what are we to do about this long standing American tradition, American’s race wound?

First, let’s stop denying that a problem exists. Next let’s figure out how to talk to each other about these issues. White Americans need to start listening to black Americans. Really listen.

Second, more programs like Cultural Leadership (the one my son did) or workshops from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that I used to lead are needed more than ever.

If you want to start being part of the solution, instead of the problem, find a local anti-racism group in your community. Another idea is to read books that explore these issues. Educate yourself.

Silence on the black-white issue in America means complacency and that is no solution to the stain we have in our country today called racism.

I am no longer accepting the things IPlease note, my blog is a safe environment and I will not allow anyone who is trying to explore these issues to be slammed.



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!

8 thoughts on “Ferguson Reveals the Ugly Wound in America

  1. V.Lynn Hawkins

    What a powerful article Heidi! Not only did I enjoy reading it, the content moved me. Bridging the gap of complacency in privilege to taking a stand of acceptance and empowering all, starts most effectively with what we’re teaching our kids. I love that you were awakened to the value of the experience for your son to be involved in something that could only cause significant knowledge to be awakened in him. As a long-time child advocate, much of what is needing correction for kids is because of what they’ve been taught by their parents.

    I was blessed to grow up in a home where racial distinctions were seldom brought up. The downside of that was that I was unaware of the reality of life for African Americans. That was my excuse to become radical. I became a militant, Black Power advocate, who was angry about it all. Why I couldn’t do what some of my White friends could and why I couldn’t do some of the things my Black friends could do were the biggest questions for me. Angry at a Mom who wanted to protect me and feeling the need to take a stand because of the magnitude of the injustices that were occurring, that I now saw, I fell prey to being a victim of ignorance and began seeking to understand it all.

    My education took me to a place of inspiring acceptance in order to be accepted, another place of ridicule at one point in the African American community. Case in point, I had gone to some of the most prestigious schools, had a car a 17 (that I bought myself), living in the hood, and I was terrified to walk the streets of my own neighborhood. My question … why did we live in the hood? My friends didn’t live in my community and I didn’t go to the neighborhood school. I didn’t know the kids I would have otherwise grown up with. All of this provided the best of the best and the worst of the worst in situational scenarios that I thought for a time I wouldn’t wish on anyone. As a youngster, no one taught how to maneuver in this place in life, like they don’t teach you personality styles and how to balance a checkbook. What could I have done with some leadership development training at an earlier age. Thus my quest to provide what I didn’t have for my kids benefit and it inspired many of my friends to do the same. Many of the friends I associate with now, newer friends have also done the same for their kids. That’s probably why we’re friends. The heart of acceptance knows a heart of acceptance.

    Decades later, it’s disappointing, it’s heartbreaking that overall, things have not changed. I appreciate the newer perspective and awakening around “White Privilege” and I believe the answer is the embrace of love. Add a little heart to the equation, which means we stop thinking so much about ourselves.

    The truth is that we all have the same issues and it’s intolerant people with superiority complexes that hurt everyone. Those of us who do embrace the collective, collaborate, co-creative of life are the ones to help knock others off of their perches by challenging them to the awakening. Yet, we are also the ones who must show the empathy and compassion that you speak of when someone wants to understand what’s happening to them. Some just will not care, which makes it so important to touch the kids. Our kids truly are our future and the strong thread in the fabric of healing that is moving across the world.

    Thanks so much for your contribution to the conversation. I hope more will join in the conversation because that’s where it starts … having the conversation.

    Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      Thank you Lynn for not only responding to this post (one that is VERY dear to my heart) but also for sharing so much of your own background and perspectives. I agree, we all suffer from people who need to put us down and stomp on our hearts and dreams whether it through racism or some other “ism” AND that only through teaching our children to love accept themselves and those who are different from them will we start to really see progress in our country.

      Years ago I heard about an very progressive program in the middle east that mixed Palestinian and Israeli school age children to help them begin to see each other as neighbor and not enemy. It sounded so promising, but my guess is that it will take more time before healing can happen there.

      But in this country, we can change the hearts and minds of American’s IF this country makes it a priority. The program that my son participated in was a great start. It was designed to teach Black and Jewish teens about each others’ cultures and how historically in this country both the Black and Jewish communities used to work together–at least for the creation of all the civil rights laws in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. What was interesting was that both groups off teens not only learned about the others but also about themselves–turns out that a lot of the teens didn’t really know much about their own cultural history! And the exciting part came while watching them figure out that by banding together they could make such a difference.

      Change will happen as people like you and me, and our friends, chip away at the prejudices of the small minded “intolerant people with superiority complexes that hurt everyone” and whose attitudes are killing (or imprisoning) young Black Americans. Raising our kids to recognize that they are not powerless in the face is the large ‘ism’s’ is one way.

      Remember the starfish story that I used to use in my presentations? I remind myself of that story to help me remember that it is possible to make a difference, even if it is only for a small group of starfish and I pray that others are also on that beach tossing other ones in as well!

      Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      Thank you Lorrie, appreciate your feedback on this post. Most of the time I spend only a day or two on my blog pieces, but this one is so important to me that I spend a lot more time and energy trying to make sure that I expressed myself more clearly than usual. I have to admit that I am surprised and a bit upset at how few of my readers have commented on it, so I am really quite grateful that you have!

      Reply
  2. Crystal-Marie Mitchell

    Heidi,

    First, thank you for writing this. I’ve been reading so many articles about racism following the recent events in Ferguson. I cannot tell you how frustrating it can be that all people do not see the injustice that surrounds growing up black in America. I had two guest writers on my blog, one article titled, Fears of a New Mother and the other What Do I Tell My Son To Keep Him Alive. You can imagine by the titles what the content was like.

    I find it heartbreaking that Black mothers in America have to think about the things that they tell their children about dealing with police and walking down the street. That cartoon you posted says it all. And my parents taught me even as a girl there are certain things I cannot do. It’s a shame to live in the same America as everyone else and not always feel like it.

    I agree with what you are saying about having more dialogue and participating in programs that help facilitate healthy discussion on racism. But I think its imperative for people to diversify their friendships/relationships. The more people of different races that you have as friends (true friends), the more you will become educated on the issues that affect them everyday.

    I would love to repost this on my blog.

    XOXO,
    Crystal-Marie

    Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      Thanks Chrystal-Marie for the comments, always love to read responses to what I write, especially on topics like this. I agree having relationships with people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures helps the situation. How can we develop empathy for people with differing perspectives if we can’t relate to them and their experiences. BUT I do think it is imperative for white people to educate themselves on the problems of racism in this country and not to rely on black people to teach them all about it. That would put too large of a burden on blacks and prevent a true relationship fro developing in my opinion.

      I would be honored to have this re-posted on your blog. Please contact me directly and let’s go through the details.

      Yours,
      Heidi

      Reply
  3. Lisa Owen

    Heidi, this is excellent. I laugh at the cartoon graphic above, but it’s so true – those words have come out of my mouth many times. We really do need to find a way to have meaningful dialogue that will make us all open to whatever role we play in this mess (for lack of a better word). Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      You are right it is a mess, but it doesn’t have o be a mess that shuts us down, but could, instead, be a mess that opens us up to all sorts of possibilities for connecting in more meaningful ways in my opinion. But only if we listen to each other and then learn how to understand that our perspectives are only our perspectives and not more or less valid that anyone else’s in our society. Thanks fr reading and fr posting!

      Reply

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