With the progress made in recent decades, some Americans might consider racism a minority issue, a problem that has been mostly addressed.
However, while we celebrate Black History Month, we also reflect on how racism continues to be relevant to each of us. As President Barack Obama, hailed as a symbol of a “post-racial era,” said at the 2009 NAACP Centennial Anniversary: ‘I understand there may be a temptation among some to think that discrimination is no longer a problem. But make no mistake, the pain of discrimination is still felt in America.”
There is much healing to be done, and the approach that we at Starr Commonwealth have adopted to this is known as “The Five Shifts.” These shifts involve changing the way we think or feel to better understand and experience someone else’s reality.
Before making the shift, we must adopt a fundamental principle — the “Oneness of Humankind.” There is no biological evidence that separates the human race. Humans, whatever their origins or skin color, are one family.
Racial healing begins with this understanding, but for many of us even science can be difficult to accept unless we open our heart and our mind to different perspectives — one of the five shifts is from “Certainty to Curiosity.”
Our society places a premium on being certain in our lives. We want to see certainty in our leaders, and become anxious when we sense uncertainty in them. Likewise, in our personal lives, we want those we depend on to be certain about the challenges we face.
The problem with certainty is that it can make it difficult for us to accept new information and understand different views. Curiosity, however, can lead to learning and a better appreciation of someone else. As we see others as people who, like us, have hopes, dreams, fears and regrets, we begin to connect with them.
We also shift from “Material to Spiritual,” seeing beyond a person’s appearance to their inner being, from the “Cognitive to the Affective,” meaning we let our hearts and feelings guide us more than our heads, and from “Solution to Transformation,” recognizing that our own behavior can inspire change in others as much as expecting the solution to be found by someone else. Finally, we shift from “Debate to Dialogue,” ensuring that we don’t try to argue people into change and instead help them to reflect on their position through inquiry and of course, curiosity.
Making these shifts in perspective is a very personal experience. But sharing it with others and supporting them as they change is how we can promote healing in our communities and as a society. With healthier relationships, through the “oneness of humankind,” we can begin to fix the everyday inequalities we see in education, employment and quality of life. We can build environments where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
While this month reminds us where we have come from, we should not let the issue of racism be dismissed as history. Each month, each week, every day, every one of us should be part of America’s racial healing journey.
Chuck Jackson is the executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Starr Commonwealth, one of the nation’s leading non-profit child and family service organizations. For more information on Starr, including its Glasswing racial healing program, visit www.starr.org.