This month, I learned the president of the United States of America thinks the work I do is anti-American. He indicated that racial sensitivity training is divisive and promotes anti-American propaganda. I couldn’t disagree more. I think it helps us to see the world from multiple vantage points, express growth and allows us to learn with and from each other all while gaining a better understanding of ourselves and others.
Where I agree with the president is that this training makes us uncomfortable. This training requires our nation be held accountable to who we say we are and what we do. It is not about feeling comfortable; it is about being consistent and actually walking our talk. As much as I love this country, it is not something that we easily do — actually matching our words to our actions. This becomes clearer to me as we hear the following statements:
Black Lives Matter.
Blue Lives Matter.
Racial sensitivity training is anti-American.
Each of these statements has been made to imply that there is only one way to be and that what has been said isn’t it. This is known as a false dichotomy. According to memories of my ethics professor Dr. William “Bill” Whisner, false dichotomies are the result of presenting something as if there are only two available options, when, in fact, there are at least three or more. What I am noticing more and more is the emergence of false dichotomies being used as tools to shame, demean or oppress those who do not agree with them.
For example, I am not sure why the phrase Black Lives Matter became polarizing, but it did. When I hear that statement, I am reminded that I matter. I am included in the lives that matter. I say this because it is not the first time that we as a country have come into conflict with what we say and what we do.
The second paragraph of the U.S. Constitution includes the language that all men are created equal. However, we know that later in this same document, Black people, African slaves, were counted as three-fifths of a person to create a compromise for representation in slave-holding states. Riddle me this, how are all men created equal, yet Black people, African slaves were not? Precisely because they were not seen as men at all, let alone, human.
The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship to all born or naturalized in the United States. Suddenly, all the slaves who had been unwitting “guest workers” became citizens. Next, the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, stated that voting rights could not be “denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” This meant that Black men had the right to vote; however, Black Codes, which were created by southern leadership, made it all but impossible for Black men to vote.
It was only 100 years ago with the pages of the 19th Amendment that women got the vote. This is another situation where the devil is in the details. White women got the vote. This amendment did not eliminate state laws such as poll taxes and literacy tests. It did not stop violence or lynching Black people who tried to vote. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that the right to vote was guaranteed for Black men and women.
Think about that. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 had to be put in place to confirm Blacks had the right to vote — even though our Constitution said it; we had to push further to affirm it because people were not protected equally under the law to exercise their rights as citizens of these United States of America. In other words, our government had to explicitly state that Black Lives Matter.
I can promise you that this conversation was not comfortable. It has never been comfortable because we still continue to have it. If, as the president says, racial sensitivity training is un-American, we may need to revisit what it means to be American. Our founding is based on the discomfort people felt and the desire to build a new world with new ways of being — often at a high cost to others which, we are slowly answering for.
Clearly, we don’t always get it right. However, it is truly the American way to look at our lives through multiple lenses, to ensure that who we say we are is in alignment with what we do.
Here. I’ll start. I’m willing to be uncomfortable if it brings us closer together, helps us make the world a better place and holds us accountable to who we say we are. Will you do that with me? Can we have a conversation instead of a confrontation? Look for future town hall conversations on race. We all need to be a part of the discussion. When there is discussion, there is the potential for less dichotomy, more understanding and relationship building.