I’ve become an anti-racism activist. I’m not a demonstrating activist or a protesting activist. My activism is talking to people about racism.
Primarily as the result of writing this blog, I’m having regular conversations and email exchanges with a variety of white people. To my surprise, many white people are in the same place I am: they have a new, better understanding of how racism infects so much of our lives. They see the problem and they know it must be fixed. Sooner or later in each conversation someone asks “what can we do?”
For now, keep talking. Go out of your way to have conversations with white people about race. Have conversations with people who “get it” and have the more difficult conversations with people who don’t yet see what you now see.
For now, approach every interaction with a black person as though you lived in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood instead of greater Hartford. I took a walk through my neighborhood yesterday, and on three separate occasions along the way I encountered a lone black person. In each case, as he or she approached, I put myself in the frame of mind that I was genuinely happy that this person lived in my community, that I was genuinely happy for them that this community was open to them. Then, as we passed, I greeted them with a heartfelt and energetic “Good morning! It’s a pleasure to see you!” I was intentionally more animated than normal. I almost could have been Fred Rogers saying “won’t you be my neighbor?” Two of the three were genuinely pleased, if not downright surprised. It seemed as though the unexpected warmth of a white person’s greeting had touched them.
I know we don’t live in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. I know that the world we want, a world where every human being is greeted with sincere interest, doesn’t exist in America today. Maybe the best way to make that world a reality is to live our lives as though it did exist. The magic of living in Mr. Rogers’ make-believe world is that by living in it, we can make it our reality.
Some people in this country think Donald Trump is the problem; others believe he is the solution. Donald Trump is neither. The world we see on our digital screens is a distraction. The problem is in our neighborhoods and in our towns and cities, where you and I live. The problem starts with how you and I greet our neighbors, and that’s something we can change.
A movement for change is growing. Change requires creative problem solving. Talking inspires the creativity in all of us. Talking feeds the movement.
So for now, keep talking. Let “what can we do?” become “what can we do together?” and talk about that. “What can we do together in our neighborhood, in our town, in our city?”
And channel a bit of Mr. Rogers.