A few weeks ago I saw a great movie entitled The Best of Enemies starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. The movies was based on a true story. For those of you who have not seen the movie, I will not provide too many details and spoil the plot. I will share that the premise of the movie is about a Klu Klu. Klan leader, a civil rights champion and desegregation in Durham, North Carolina public schools in 1971-72. The story vividly discusses how many white men held open membership in the Klan and also held public office, were business leaders and also influenced public policy.
The story makes clear how racist actions were not only accepted, but endorsed by the political, economic and social systems during this time. True structural racism and the long term impacts of it were showcased in this film. The film has me thinking about this question: Why are we surprised about racist systems, institutions and behavior in 2019, if this is how we were raised? We were raised to be who we are.
During the time period reflected in this movie, I was 4 years old. I was born in Detroit Michigan and my mom was 25 and my Dad was 38 at the time of my birth. My mom was raised by her mom who was born in 1900 in Grantville, Georgia. My dad was raised by a mother born in the late 1800s in Birmingham, Alabama. Both of their mothers taught them through the lenses of what they knew and what they experienced. Living in the south, they were taught about racism, civil rights, lynchings, Jim Crow, Black Pride/Power, the power of faith, etc.
My mom and dad’s character was developed by the experiences of their parents. They became who they were raised to be. As my parents raised me, they imparted knowledge of their experiences as was passed down to them. I learned about the impact and importance of Black history, segregation, discrimination, racism, Black Power, Black Economic Development, Black Political Power and many things about racism in the Deep South and the North. What I learned shaped who I am as a leader and guides how I create teams and manage people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. How I was raised is important and defines in part who I am.
Just like I was 4 in 1971, so were the children of the Klu Klux Klan and White Council members in the movie (true story) Best of Enemies. In Durham, North Carolina, these young people were influenced by their parents and grandparents just as I was influenced by my own. They learned about and were expected to enforce bigotry, white supremacy, discrimination, racism, prejudice, etc. They were also exposed to discriminatory acts, by their relatives, from lunch counter attacks, dog attacks and other vicious acts against Black people, including but not limited to lynchings, beatings and other heinous, yet not prosecuted, crimes. How these kids were raised defines in part who they are.
As I reflect on the fact that I am only 51 years old and the children of the Klan members and bigots in the movie are the same age or younger, I realize why we should not be surprised when we encounter behaviors and systems that exhibit fear and hatred of other races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, etc. We are who we were raised to be. The way we change this dangerous trajectory of acting how we were raised is by doing a few things differently:
Create circles where there are many opposing views and racially different people in the room. We must have those we hate and those who may hate us at the table. It is through learning who we are and who we can be, that we can make a difference in our thoughts and actions.
Acknowledge and address the impact historical and current trauma has on our interactions and behavior. As you have learned through this blog, who we are and how we think is parent/culture/environment driven and is in fact not so historical after all. I am still a fairly young man (my belief) who grew up in an era with others whose parents endorsed and enforced bigotry and violence based on race. How we react from a social emotional standpoint must be addressed before we rush to searching for solutions for biased behavior and racist systems.
Stop being surprised that bigotry, intentional bias, racism and white supremacy still exist. You are who you were raised to be. Let’s stop thinking that lynchings, Jim Crow, and the Klan were so far in our rear view mirror. In fact, we are not even a generation removed from heinous acts conducted solely against people on the basis of race. We are not a post racial society because we have never fully embraced, examined nor changed our traditions, values and behaviors that reinforce racial inequities. Racial disparities are not a surprise. They are the product of a system designed to create and sustain racial disparities. A system based on hatred, bias, prejudice and discrimination cannot produce racial equity.
Action, Action, Action is important. To know is to acknowledge; To understand is to comprehend; To validate is to address trauma; To act is to build upon the learnings and make sure we change behavior to break the cycle of who we were raised to be. I hope each of you see the movie Best of Enemies and realize that we truly have come a long way, but that the way by which we have come is not to far removed from atrocities and despicable learnings that we have not acknowledged, addressed or changed. We must destroy and replace the culture and systems built on racism that produced racist results and created racial disparities. Now we must act with urgency and not be surprised that in 2019 we are experiencing the results of who we were raised to be.