Last night after we got home from work, Greg and I sat facing the windows in our living room, feet up on the radiators, listening to Barack Obama’s speech on the racial divide in America. Dusk was settling over the neighborhood and I sipped at a glass of red wine in my hand.
His speech was just stunning. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a president say things this country so badly needs to hear and every word out of his mouth simply made Hillary and McCain look that much more like political robots saying the same things that every politician always says.
It wasn’t until I was in a grad program for psychology that I was forced to really think about and talk about my feelings concerning race. In a couple of different classes that I was required to take for my degree, the focus was entirely on getting students to honestly get in touch with all of their prejudices and fears and beliefs about other races, cultures and classes.
How could we expect to be psychotherapists if there we were going to have clients with whom we could not get past our own prejudices about?
These classes were incredibly hard and very scary and very powerful. We sat in a circle night after night really talking about our ethnic backgrounds, about the neighborhoods and class systems in which we were raised. We talked about our parent’s views on race and ethnicity, we repeated the racial slurs our fathers uttered and we said aloud the misconceptions about the person sitting next to us that we’d always carried.
Those classes, those nights sharing some of my most secret thoughts about the people with whom I inhabit this earth, were some of the most eye-opening, heartbreaking, and truly life-changing moments I’ve ever had. I wish every American could have a similar experience.
And after having gone through this process of finally beginning to explore my beliefs and long-held ideas, I realized that the reason so many of these prejudices exist is because we don’t talk about them enough. There is no dialogue about them. People are afraid to explore how they really feel. No one feels safe. And this can only lead to a more deeply seeded and secretive set of prejudices.
Last night Barack Obama opened the doors for this country to begin having a truly honest conversation. Let’s not close them again.