Racism hurts. In fact, it destroys, and the destruction goes deep into a person's psyche.
Racism and prejudice are not the same. All racists are prejudiced. But racism combines a hateful prejudice with power. It's the power that gives prejudice teeth, transforming it into a force that works in individual lives and decisions, but even more importantly, it also spawns policies and systems capable of oppressing entire groups of people on the basis of race and ethnicity alone.
Without a doubt over my lifetime, we've made progress as a nation in our struggle with and against racism. Still, two factors combine to ensure that our struggle must continue.
First, systemic racism still exists, and in some situations it is on the grow.
Disproportionate numbers of African Americans end up in prison in this nation. Violence against black "suspects" fills our news: young people in hoodies, an asthmatic adult choked to death, a young man in Ferguson, Missouri gunned down by a police officer as he held his empty hands high above his head in a posture of surrender, organized attacks on various essential expressions of the Voters' Rights Acts threatened to call in question the legitimacy of our electoral process. I know black mothers who feel compelled to teach their children how to react to authority figures in our culture, especially police officers. Who am I to question their assessment of the world their children must face even today? Rather than question or minimize, I just need to listen and learn. I could go on. People who protest too much about any conversation involving the so-called "race card," make me wonder about their true worldview regarding the subject.
Second, seasoned civil rights warriors have been defined in many respects by their experiences in the battle against racism. Such self-definition must be honored, not rudely brushed to the side.
Many activists in my generation simply cannot forget what went before the progress we have made. Frankly, it is unfair to ask them to forget that which has defined their lives so completely. White persons who insist on "moving on" or who urge us to forget the past in defensive responses to words like I am sharing right now, just don't understand. There is a time for simple listening in a real attempt to understand those who have been wounded and forever altered by the pain of the long night's struggle. The progress many white folks and even younger minorities want to quickly tout would not have been realized without the sacrifice of the generation that calls on us to never forget.
Sometimes being thoughtful means simply being silent, even when you don't agree, so that real hearing, listening and understanding can happen.