Over the years I have attended many discussions on race relations in Kansas City and across the U.S.
Although little seems to be accomplished, it is important to learn from others on touchy racial topics. The Black Lives Matter movement is among them. For nearly two years it has brought needed attention to the police killings of unarmed black males, first in Ferguson, Mo., and then nationwide.
Other discussions on race have included the GOP’s treatment of President Barack Obama as the first African American to hold that office. He has endured a lot of disrespect and other bad treatment.
In the last year the Republicans campaigning for president took the country to new lows in race relations, religion, national origin and immigration. It’s why the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s start this year of a Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation initiative is so important.
More than 70 diverse organizations — including the National Civic League, the YWCA, the Poverty & Race Research Action Council and the National Congress of American Indians — are part of it. The project has the potential to do more than the national conversation on race that then-President Bill Clinton started in June 1997.
Then-Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver began similar discussions locally. Neither lasted long enough nor accomplished what a lot of people had hoped. They merely raised expectations of progress as well as frustrations when substantive change didn’t occur.
Some discussions on race that I’ve attended this year have focused on white privilege but resulted in confusing mischaracterizations. At another, people in a church basement expressed fatigue and frustration from recurring talks on whether black lives matter.
The reality is in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson; Tamir Rice in Cleveland; Oscar Grant in Oakland, Calif.; Eric Garner in New York; Freddie Gray in Baltimore; Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C.; and the nine black worshipers who were gunned down by a white supremacist at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.
The Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation initiative can help. It’s needed to counter today’s hateful discourse.
A CNN and Kaiser Family Foundation survey last fall found that Americans are more likely to consider racism a problem than they were two decades ago. The survey added, “Overall, 49 percent of Americans in the poll say racism is a big problem in the country, up from 28 percent four years ago.” Shortly after the Million Man March in 1995, 41 percent said racism was a big problem.
Among African-Americans and Latinos, 66 percent and 64 percent respectively see racism as a big problem, compared with 43 percent of whites. Two thirds of Americans say racial tensions have increased in the last 10 years, compared with 29 percent who said so in 2001; 47 percent felt that way in 1995.
We still live in largely segregated neighborhoods. People of color are still racially profiled by police and face disproportionately high unemployment, poverty and incarceration rates, poor education, poor health care and opportunity deficit. Let’s hope the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation project can address these needs.
The initiative promises to “help communities embrace racial healing and uproot the unconscious and conscious beliefs in racial hierarchy,” the foundation’s website says. This is a multiyear, national and community-based effort to “identify both short- and long-term strategies for meaningful change across the country.”
“We believe, if we are able to tell a story broader than the dominant narrative about our country’s history, we can heal our communities for a stronger future for all children,” the foundation notes.
I can only hope that it will yield substantive change and heal the pain and damage in America.