Racism exists, and I have the scars to prove it.
But when we hear a racist remark, it doesn’t automatically mean this person is a Nazi who reads Mein Kampf for breakfast. When we confront racism, we often confuse “overbearing Hollywood-type racist portrayed in movies” with buried, implicit, culturally conditioned racist attitudes. It means that most of us have layers of systemic, racist dogma that have been indoctrinated over years of apathy and ignorance.
If we attack racism with the force of a sledgehammer, it’ll preach to the choir and win internet-points — but it will change no one. We need the subtle skill of a surgeon to extract and kill a racist attitude. It doesn’t mean we’re pampering or wearing kid-gloves. It doesn’t mean we overlook the very real violence of hate crimes and racist-affirming groups. But all throughout history, the undercurrent of culturally ingrained racism was dismantled by patience, firm conviction, and open dialogue. It’s how Daryl Davis, a black musician, effectively helped to end the Ku Klux Klan in Maryland. (Give the podcast a listen, it’s incredibly moving.)
The reason I believe Martin Luther King Jr. had such a sweeping effect on our national psyche is because he managed to be both compassionate and just. He asked the right questions and navigated with the right surgical touch. He reached across dividing lines to the people in authority and was able to negotiate without haranguing them. He believed that people could change: not by smug, snarky, sarcastic eye-rolling or throwing lyrical grenades over a fence, but by challenging others on common ground without capitulating to hateful, reactionary methods.
Systematic change began when someone entered the system through wisdom instead of slamming against it from the gates — and I believe we can be wise enough to do this today.