If You Must Talk About Race, Be Gracious

Demonstrators hold a sign at the 2020 Unity March Against Racism in Chicago, 10 October.


Nam Y. Hu/Presse Associée

America is still obsessed with race, and all people today seem to see conflict and injustice. But as an American anthropologist.

Ruth Benedict.

once wrote in his diary: The problem of life is not that there are no answers, but that there are so many.

I grew up black in the 1960s in a small town in South Carolina. Believe me, today’s America isn’t what it used to be. And even with the segregation, the marginalization was not complete. My father was a plumber, my mother was a school librarian. We were treated very nicely. Local shop owners wanted our business, but they also wanted to avoid problems with the few people who genuinely believed in segregation.

Segregation wasn’t uniform. One doctor had a separate waiting room, the other didn’t. Just like the two dentists in town. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade certain properties, things opened very quickly.

Many writers, commentators and journalists who spend all their energy thinking and talking about race today, do not recognize how much race has improved in this country. Today, there are countless successful black Americans – doctors and lawyers, entrepreneurs and scientists, journalists and artists, compassionate politicians and famous Hollywood actors. Their number will increase as long as we remember six things:

First of all: Every life is important. My cage is no more or less valuable than anyone else’s. Whether this idea is being discussed or defended is madness.

Second: Racism still exists, but it’s no longer systemic. Those who claim that racism is everywhere today are fooling themselves.

Thirdly, we tend to overemphasize our individuality. The colour of my skin, my weight, my sex and my sexual orientation are the four least interesting things about me. I’m a southerner and I like southern food. Well, that’s interesting.

Fourthly, police officers must be held accountable for their actions, which is increasingly the case.

Fifth: Do what law enforcement asks of you. Of course, that doesn’t solve all the problems, because cops are people, not angels. But that’s part of life. Just by doing what the people in blue ask you to do, unnecessary confrontations, injuries and death are greatly reduced.

Sixth: If you want to talk about race, be kind and respectful. Discussions on this subject should not be contradictory – after all, race is not a choice – but for one reason or another, many popular figures insist on making this subject as uncomfortable as possible.

Real discernment usually doesn’t make you angry or scared. It makes you laugh and generates gratitude.

Mr. Stevens is a writer and lifeguard in Columbia, South Carolina.

Wonderland: Systemic racism is the systemic oblivion of 55 years of failed urban policies. Photo: Scott Hines/Getty Images

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Published in the printed edition of 29. December 2020.

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