Let’s move forward, despite imperfections

“Most of us have gotten through life never thinking about the color of our skin or (our) ethnic background. But people of color think about it all the time. And it must be quite an emotional burden to have to bear.”

– Morris Dees, at the Everett Event Center Thursday

The reasons behind racism and the solutions to it can be as complex as each one of us, but Morris Dees’ thoughtful comment should serve as an eye-opener to those who believe racism doesn’t exist anymore. Not only does it exist, it is subtle enough, blatant enough and prevalent enough to cause many of us to think about it every day. An emotional burden indeed.

At nearly every diversity celebration, speakers remind the audience how far we’ve come in battling racism, and how far we have to go to reach the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., whose memory and message we celebrate today. Many of us don’t want to hear that we aren’t “there” yet because that’s not our experience. Things seem pretty good to us. We aren’t put in positions that force us to think about the color of our skin every day, so the problem of racism seems practically non-existent. Horrible stories of local cross burnings are the exception, not the norm, we tell ourselves. If we’re not a person of color, then such experiences are rare for us. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist for others all around us.

It’s interesting and sad that we can live in the same cities and towns and, yet, have such opposite experiences in life that we can view the same community as either tolerant and peaceful or racist and limiting. It’s even more upsetting that those who don’t witness the prejudice inflicted on others refuse to believe it exists – as though these people somehow imagined the discrimination.

Fear breeds hatred, Dees told Thursday’s crowd in Everett. Fear that somebody else is going to get something we think we’re entitled to. But there is enough to go around if we’re working together to solve our problems, and that’s not just wishful thinking. We don’t have to be perfect to approach the banquet table of diversity to make our contribution. Just as no single group corners the market on what is right or wrong, no single group holds the patent on a solution to the problems that have divided us for so long.

Take your imperfections and step forward to truly learn about the people in your community this year. Then next year, we can celebrate the steps we’ve taken without feeling threatened by how far we have to go.

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