By Mary-Frances Winters, President and CEO The Winters Group, Inc. and Inclusion Allies Coalition Founder
This week, a student at Florida Gulf Coast University has posted signs around campus that say: “It’s Ok to be White” to protest a new class taught by Sociology professor at the school called “White Racism”. When the class was first announced the professor received so much backlash that police officers were stationed near the building as a precaution. Professor Ted Thornhill defended the class saying that the content is not an attack on white people but rather an “exploration of our racially stratified society that is based on white supremacy”. Thornhill received hundreds of what TIME reported as “malicious and vile” e-mails and phone calls, many of them including racial slurs.
Last week the President allegedly called countries largely populated by Brown and Black people by an uncomplimentary, vulgar name. Leaders of these countries were highly offended and called for an apology and The Congressional Black Caucus is thinking about boycotting the State of the Union Address. Trump has been labeled as a racist as a result of that incident that is just one more in a growing list of comments and opinions that would suggest that he is racially intolerant.
These examples (and there are many others) illustrate a dangerously escalating racial crisis in this country. Why do I call it a crisis? Because we are not effectively challenging, debating and looking for our common ground. We are staying in our polarized corners throwing barbs from the corners refusing to come to the middle to explore our differences.
As part of our education to foster greater understanding about our differences, it is important that we allow civil and respectful discourse about WHY we may hold such different points of view. Where do our different worldviews come from? What knowledge and personal experience allow us to judge and critique our “others”. Why are we becoming so defensive about our own group and insensitive about other groups? What are we afraid of?
For example, why is there a growing sentiment that white people are under attack? What is the evidence that it is not ok to be white? From my worldview, white people are still largely in power everywhere. From my worldview it has always been ok to be white, but not always ok to be black, or Latino, or Jewish, or Muslim or LGBTQ or a person with a disability? However, I am open to listening and better understand the white perspective.
We often use the 4E™ Model to try to understand what it takes to foster greater understanding and inclusion.
Exposure: How much exposure do you have in your world to those who are different from you? If you have very little real exposure, you are not qualified to judge.
Experience: Exposure to difference is not enough. What meaningful relationships do you have with those who are different from you? The Public Religion Institute conducted a survey in 2013 that found that 75% of whites only have important conversations with other whites; 65% of blacks with other blacks and 46% of Latinos with other Latinos. If we are not discussing important issues with each other, we certainly cannot foster understanding.
Education: What formal education about other groups do you have? If we try to censure universities from teaching classes like White Racism, how will we learn about our history?
Empathy: Empathy is not possible without the other three E’s and a more inclusive and accepting world is not possible without empathy. The ability to experience the world from the perspective of the “other” is essential.
Please let’s stop being mean and hateful towards those who are different from us and let’s commit to exercising the 4 E’s™ so that we can foster a world of love, compassion and regard for all humans. Our survival depends on it.