Karen Finney: The Conversation We Need to Have

Good people can do stupid things. Bad people can do smart things. There is nothing intrinsically racial in saying a good person may have done a stupid thing.

The incident in Cambridge comes on the heels of a number of incidents over the past several months that reminded us of the unfinished business race and prejudice in our country. A group of school children were kicked out of a pool because of the color of their skin. A US senator said to a Supreme Court nominee who happened to be a Hispanic woman “You got some splaining to do.” A morning show host on a national cable network suggested that the reason Americans have a higher rate of Alzheimer’s is “we marry everybody” unlike Finland and Sweden which are more pure societies. The shooting at the Holocaust Museum, by a neo-Nazi. Gay people are still fighting for the right to marry.

Whether or not this was racial to start with, it’s racial now. A single man’s character should not be questioned, rather America should use this moment to have the next phase of the conversation about our biases and prejudices. We came close during the Democratic primary, but for political reasons it was put to the side. Whether it’s people of color, women, gays, or immigrants. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

Today, the idea of segregated schools seems ridiculous. That African Americans and Whites can’t marry? Insane. That women shouldn’t have the right to vote or are incapable of serving at the highest levels of government? Crazy. Our culture recognizes that not everyone starts out with access to equal opportunities but given the chance we all have the capacity to do great things and live up to our individual potential. The civil rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s fought for and won legislation to ensure equal access and the opportunity to live, go to school, and work side by side. We have been able to learn from one another, to break down stereotypes and change attitudes as a result of these systemic changes. But, you cannot legislate attitudes. While the movement changed our laws, it was individual Americans who changed our country. Individual people made changes, stood up for change and made it happen both nationally and in their own communities and their own lives.

On this next part of our American journey, the changes we need to make will again largely have to come from each one of us as individuals. We have to take responsibility for looking into our own hearts, examining and challenging our biases and speaking out or taking a stand when we can. Or, just changing the way we treat people who are different from ourselves in our own lives.

We can’t be afraid to have this conversation.


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