- A review of American systems suggests that racism persists in society, despite the refusal of some to acknowledge it.
- Many argue that the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor raised American consciousness regarding racial injustice.
- While there have been some measures taken toward improving race relations, changes continue to fall short.
- It is clear that Americans, from all backgrounds, need education about racial inequality, or we are doomed to continue to repeat the cycle.
By Douglas E. Lewis, Jr., Psy.D., on behalf of the Atlanta Behavioral Health Advocates
Alfred Adler, a psychiatrist known as the father of individual psychology, developed the use of Early Recollections (ERs) as a technique for psychotherapy. Adler believed that ERs, a small collection of an individual’s memories occurring before age 10, were a projection of an individual’s present-day thought or behavioral patterns on the past. The psychotherapist and the individual discuss these ERs, and through collaborative interpretation acquire a deeper understanding of the individual’s personality and behavioral functioning.
My earliest memory is when I visited the local health department for my “shots” or vaccinations. I could not have been older than three years old. I recall a White American child, presumably my same age, kindly sharing his Cheerios with me. My dad noticed the exchange after I ate a handful, and he forcefully told me to stop! What I now recognize is that my dad did not only seem annoyed by my apparent disobedience or social infraction, but he also seemed fearful or concerned. Immediately following his command for me to stop, the other child’s mom reassured my dad that it was “okay” for me to have some Cheerios. It has been three decades since that experience, and it remains etched in my memory.
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor last year appeared to raise American consciousness about the impact of race in a way not previously observed. The American Congress put forth the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, “Juneteenth” was declared a paid federal holiday, and Corporate America as well as institutions of higher learning put in place a number of initiatives seeking to improve race relations.
Despite these actions, events of late show us that change is slow moving, and there are indications that many still wish to undermine or hinder any progress, as they refuse to acknowledge that present-day racial injustice exists. Others take this belief further, suggesting that certain details concerning America’s dark history shouldn’t be taught to children for fear that White children may experience guilt or shame while children from racial minority groups may feel inferior. Does banning the history of racial inequality from curricula improve or worsen the experiences of American children?
The current state of race relations in this country suggests that banning this history certainly will not improve the experiences of people of Color over their lifetimes. In recent weeks, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has stalled in Congress and is unlikely to be enacted. Following the tragic death of a young woman, there’s been a groundswell of conversation about “missing White woman syndrome,” as thousands of people of Color are reported missing with little to no news coverage. There has been great criticism and passionate discussion about the perceived difference in treatment of Haitian immigrants at the United States border, as men were seen on horseback brandishing whips to subdue them. The list feels endless.
The issue of race is ever-present in American society, and the totality of events occurring in just the past year show that fleeting emotions alone don’t seem to promote real change. Unfortunate events thrust racial injustice into the greater society’s awareness for a moment, and then, in the next, many whose daily lives are unaffected return to business as usual.
I began experiencing race-related issues almost as early as I began to speak. My early recollections suggest that such experiences impact my present-day thoughts and behaviors. While I don’t have a magic wand or a “cure-all” for America’s “race problem,” I feel strongly that education about racial inequality is a step in the right direction. What led me to draw that conclusion?
At age 10, my testing results qualified me for the academically gifted program within my school district. I was transferred to a different school and placed in a class wherein I was one of only two Black children. I recall spending most lunches and recess periods alone. It took several years to acquire genuine friendship with some of my peers, but not without enduring race-based teasing about how I pronounced words, about how my hair grew, or about how our teachers must favor me because I performed well.
Years later, at age 28, I reconnected with one of those classmates, at which time he spontaneously apologized to me: “I took a diversity course in graduate school and had no idea how racist and insensitive the things we used to say to you were. I really just didn’t know the experiences of Black people.” Not only did I believe him, but I also readily accepted his apology. We were in the same classes between grades 5 and 12, and not once did we celebrate or learn Black American history. My formal education on the subject matter, too, was not acquired until I attended college, as I only knew my lived experiences. Who did that help or benefit? If we fail to teach this history, we ensure that we will remain “stuck” on whether there’s even a problem.