ESSAY #13 – 10.19.20 POSTED 6.8.21

Where We Are Going, 5th in the Series

Although it may seem as though we have a long way to go before we get there, the arc of history is moving us toward a just and equitable society—a society that ensures that every child born in America will have fair access to all the resources required for their success. The only question is whether or not we are willing to actively engage in the conversations that will bring it about sooner, rather than later.

Where Are We Going? Fifth in a Series on Race, Repair-ations, and Reconciliation: Resetting the Relationship
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.” I don’t know who originally said that, but it does paint quite a picture. I used to say it to clients when I was attempting to get everyone in the company to agree on a common direction. In that context, and in many processes designed by Old White Guys, there is a specific, well-defined objective that must be focused on to bring about the result in an efficient and efficacious way, just like when we began the war in Iraq…
Okay, so maybe Old White Guys don’t always get it right. But I am not quite ready to abandon this linear approach to problem solving. If it is done with flexibility and an eye on a deeper intention, the journey will shift from the linear objective to something more profound and meaningful that includes the original objective.
Where to find oneThis one time, at band camp…(I’ve just always wanted to say that). Actually, this one time, while I was doing executive coaching at a major pharmaceutical company, one of my clients from the company, a black woman named Tamara, invited me to a small gathering she was attending that Saturday. The gathering was made up of people from both a black church and a white church, and they were interested in actively exploring racial relationships and how to bridge the gaps in our society. Tamara asked me if I would be willing to present my work and facilitate the meeting. I was honored to be asked, and agreed. When I arrived, I did my thing, and then we ate lunch and shared informally. There were about a dozen people there, evenly split racially, and everyone seemed very comfortable.
In the course of this discussion, one of the participants, an 80-year-old white woman, turned to me and said, “I would like to have one over for dinner, but I don’t know where to find one.” I was gobsmacked! We were three hours into a conversation about race, the room was half-populated by friendly black folk, and she didn’t know how to find one to invite for dinner.
I don’t remember how I responded, but I don’t think I heard then what I hear today, when I think back on it. What came out of her mouth was an extraordinary expression of heart and courage, and it framed the whole racial issue as it existed then—and now—all across this nation.
She didn’t do itA little context might help. This was the late ‘90s, which means she was born in the late teens (1918-ish), and had lived in the South for almost 50 years before civil rights legislation had passed. She grew up and lived a good part of her life in the Jim Crow South. That meant that her life was lived separately from black people—they were not part of her social weaving—and her contact with “them” was minimal.
She didn’t do that. It was what was happening at that time, and later in her life, she became aware of the separation that had been imposed upon her, and she wanted it to stop. Sometimes we carry emotions and thoughts for years and years, embedded so deep in our memories of our own life that we think they are normal, but they eat at us, wanting to be exposed, as they are incongruent with our hearts and what we know to be true. We are separated by race and color, and it doesn’t need to be this way, and it hurts. Some of us know it, some of us are beginning to know it, and some of us will never know it. But there is a critical mass of people today who are waking to that awareness. They may not know what to do, but they want the dissonance to stop.
It will stop. The question is, how long will it take? And what can we do to help that day come, preferably sooner rather than later?
Where do we want to go?Maybe you have noticed that there are black people and white people living together, and some of them are making beautiful mixed-race babies, and those babies then become regular people. Those new mixed-race people are then doing whatever they are doing, and our families and societies are becoming more confused about what black and white really means. But it is happening, and it is not going to stop happening. That is where we are going—to the place where color just doesn’t mean anything.
At the same time, there are masses of people that are trapped in segregated communities, who are not part of this natural flow of human interaction. Like our 80-year-old white woman, they are trapped through no doing of their own. It is the randomness of where and when we are born that so often is the greatest influence on our life’s trajectory. Our courageously beautiful 80-year-old was crying out that she was living in a paradigm of random origin, and wanted help getting out. She wasn’t talking about that moment when I met her, among the group of friendly black people, she was talking about her entire life, and she wanted the pain of separation to stop, but didn’t know how to make it stop. How does an 80-year-old white woman who has lived a life of thinking that black people are different, who doesn’t know any black people personally, invite a strange black person to dinner? The only honest answer I could have given, the one I should have given, was, “I don’t know, but it is quite generous of you to ask the question.”
So, where do we want to go? Maybe we want to create a world where an 80-year-old white woman doesn’t have to ask how to invite a black person to dinner. She just does it because it is the most normal and natural thing to do. That’s probably not the best wording for a national initiative, but perhaps we could make a broader, more sweeping statement, like, “Every child will be born into a society that provides security for a healthy childhood and equal opportunities for education, employment, and personal growth, regardless of their race, sex, color, national origin, and sexual orientation.” And maybe we can even leave all of those categories off the end and say “for all,” because we know that all means all.

What if…
A score of years ago or more, I asked the question, “What would happen if, before the adults in this country (that was when you could assume that the majority of elected officials were adults) made a decision or enacted a law, they asked, ‘What would be in the best interest of the children?’” It’s just something to consider, as no matter what decisions we make regarding racial relations, it will take a generation or two before the impacts of those decisions are fully integrated. No quick fix here, folks.

But what if we could live in a country where the underlying suspicions we have about each other didn’t haunt us where a 68-year-old white woman could watch the evening news and not become frightened by her own thoughts that black people might be plotting against her kind where a 32-year-old black woman could go in for a job interview without wondering if she was only being interviewed so someone could meet their targets where a mixed-race couple in their mid-30s could deal with a car salesperson or real estate agent and feel confident that they weren’t being cheated where a 60-year-old white man didn’t feel like his career was being stunted because a person of color was chosen for reasons other than merit. What if we could live in a country in which we could simply acknowledge our fears and discomfort, our anxieties about people that looked different than we look a country in which an Old White Guy wasn’t afraid to say something because he didn’t want to be called a racist by a younger white guy who has taken on the mantel of “wokeness.”

Before I finish this, I’ll speak a specific objective, but I want to repeat that the journey will be what matters. If, as a society, we take on an open dialogue that respects the views of all and is focused on something we all want, the end result will come about naturally. The issues we have with each other will transform at an accelerated pace. The country will eventually look the way that we all (excepting those people that insist it be all white, Christian, and remain unchanged) want, whether we do something or not, but it might take another four or five generations.

There are probably a lot of people who believe things will only change if we make big plans and enact a lot of new laws. I’m not saying that isn’t true, but I am saying that if we attend to the unacknowledged fears that I mentioned above, we will vastly improve the quality of life for the majority of our families, friends and neighbors. A lot of people are already there, but many still are not, and often those who are there are dismissive of those who aren’t, and that dismissiveness also creates drag on the process.

Where we are going
Over 160 years ago, at a time when everyone was fearing the possibility of a raging war and the destruction of the nation they all claimed to love, a wise man spoke the following words:

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

This truth seems so hard for us to understand, and yet the math is unassailable, as building strong children is also less expensive for society, in dollars and cents, and so much easier on families.

So, where we are going?

We are going where every child (that is, every single one) born in this country has an equal and equitable chance to develop his/her potential for personal and financial success, and has access to the resources required to achieve that success.

We are going there.It is the natural course of human development, which we have been on for centuries. If you look, you can see it, though it is not a straight, smooth road. It has been bumpy, sometimes visible, sometimes buried in the mud of human interaction. It will probably continue to be that way, and maybe it needs to be. If we are going there (and we are), why not attempt to pave some of the road in front of us?

Just so you know, I am not just an Old White Guy with the naive altruism of a “woke” 25-year-old. I am standing on the shoulders of history, of modern technology in the fields of human and technical development. For decades, the US economy has been fueled by the best and brightest, immigrating from all corners of the world, drawn to our superior higher education system. What might happen if we began to mine the untapped resources in our own communities, all across this nation? If we seriously go down this road, we will see a significant reduction in black incarceration, and a reduction of black deaths at the hands of the police. Equity will appear in college degrees and in net worth across all racial and ethnic groups, and the country will see the greatest economic growth in its history.

By the way, the words I quoted above, credited to a wise man, were spoken in 1855 to a group of white folk, by a black former slave. His name was Frederick Douglass.

Just give it some thought.