By Deborah Lashley-Johnson
My daughters have been writing letters to their future selves. A fun activity that they can do online while passing the time at home. Aside from the simple “what did you do the past year” questions, some of the boilerplate questions are quite profound:
–What lessons have I learned up until this point?
–Tell your future self about your principles and beliefs in life; and define the things you want to change in the future.
I always assumed that these were just time capsule questions that you look back on and smile, remembering who you were, but those questions above struck a nerve in me. That nerve is more inflamed these days to be honest. The unearthing of the exponentially hard lives of Black people collectively as a group has been a lot for me to digest and make sense of, whether it is:
1) the unconscionable death rates and economic job losses being reported that disproportionately affect the black population in the U.S. due to COVID 19;
2) the global news on the increasing trend of police officers killing unarmed Black Americans;
3) the targeting of black adults and children with false accusations to the police when these men, women and children are just existing, living their everyday lives; or
4) the powder keg discussion of systematic racism—not the individual kind—but the structural kind that nations were created upon and that still keep black and other non-white people struggling for opportunity and to be heard and seen in employment, housing, and healthcare services, which are the foundation for a safe, healthy and happy life.
As a late 40’s African-American mom living abroad, and witnessing racist thought, language and unspeakable actions visibly come through the ground, almost like a time capsule, at home and abroad, perpetrated by kids and adults, we all may need to honestly and vulnerably reflect and speak to essential questions. Ultimately, in the moment that we are all witnessing concerning the conversations of race, we must ask ourselves whether we are moving forward or going backwards in life. The reality check questions that I would add to every time-machine questionnaire for the human race to sit down with and answer for themselves are: How do we avoid the mistakes that we are repeating on the issue of racism? Is there a way for us to move forward on the issue of systemic racism and how?
I am a believer in communication and vision. Without those two things, we rarely get what we need or want in life. In order to communicate and have a vision to address racism, white people must educate themselves on the harmful effects racism has on societies. It is not an “other” issue for some other race to grapple with. This is an all of society issue that speaks to human dignity and moving a country forward.
If the playbook is to divide and conquer so that the few can succeed, I am afraid that playbook is going to haunt all of our children’s futures and future generations, leading to strained and weak nations, especially with technology playing a helpful and at times harmful role. I think about all of the energy and effort black people could be using to create new ideas and improve their livelihoods if we did not have the same, defensive, stale conversation we have been having for hundreds of years, resulting in the following responses: there is not a problem and if there is one, it is isolated and if there is a trend, let’s be careful not to label people as racists, so let’s not talk about systemic issues. It is time for white people to be able to enter this conversation doing a bit more than just saying, I am not racist. That is not the point.
We should all, white and non-white people, be elevating this conversation and vision, thinking about how do I turn a blind eye or avoid listening to the racist problems black people are facing? What role can I play to change that? It is only with these small, incremental steps that we all can take toward one another that over time can lead to a future we want. Let’s all answer these questions in our individual time capsules so that we can look back on them with hope and smile when our answers reflect that we are actively and intentionally creating a better world.