This past Christmas, my wife Joy and I hired my fourteen-year-old nephew to do some housecleaning and put up our Christmas tree. All was routine, when out of the blue, a loud crash reverberated through the walls. My nephew ran to the other room to see what it was before casually walking back out. Joy looked up and asked him, “What was it?” He answered nonchalantly, “Oh, something fell.” “Well did you pick it up?” Joy asked. “No,” he responded, “I wasn’t the one that made it fall.”
When it comes to the issue of race in America, there are many people who see the evidence of something fallen and broken, and their response is to look at it, turn around, and say, “I’m not to blame, so I’m not going to take any responsibility for it.” Others, upon awakening to the visible and less visible realities of inequity, quickly become overwhelmed. They recognize that the problems of race were created over a 350-year period before our government said, “It’s illegal to continue in this way.” They can only respond with the question, “What in the world can I do?”
Paralysis is understandable given that the racial hierarchies in our society were built through several centuries of legislation, regulations, and policies. These structural decisions effectively created a racialized caste system, one that endures to this day and affects our interpersonal relationships whether we want it to or not. The question is: How does one become a positive agent of change for a problem that is not just personal, but interpersonal, cultural, and structural?