My wife, Jane, is of Italian-Irish heritage with sandy brown hair and green eyes. I’m brown with a messy afro. Together, we will study Civil Rights history in Alabama in February with Road Scholar. I’ll likely be surrounded by a mix of those who have lived a direct experience of the racism in the United States and those who have only had proximity to it.

How will we hold this deep opportunity together, allowing each to learn and grow at his or her own pace and to process the emotions that are unique to each journey?

I once taught a workshop on the consciousness of racism and asked people in the room what their prevailing thought about racism was. One woman answered: “I can’t talk about it with white people in the room.” Another: “I can’t talk about it with black people in the room.” And from there we began our exploration of the layers of conditioning each of us had in dealing with the irrationality of hatred, fear and dread based on the amount of melanin in someone’s skin. The stories we have been told about ourselves and about the “other” have conditioned us in ways that we may not even be aware. We need to be able to be in the room together and talk.

Who sees a black man on the street when driving and instinctively locks the car doors? Who gets severe anxiety when someone black is expressing anger in public? Who among us feels inherently unsafe if we enter a neighborhood and notice everyone has brown skin? Who looks at blacks gathered and worries about violence erupting? Who learns about poverty, incarceration and sub-par education among some black communities and feels guilt? Who can’t look someone black in the eye and greet them for fear of engaging? These reactions are mostly subconscious, reactions from years and generations of conditioning. It’s time to bring them to light. To be in a room together and learn from each other.

Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., living-legend Congressman John Lewis and master activist Bryan Stevenson would all remind us that it takes everyone — black, white, brown, red, yellow and everything in-between — to work together for true inclusion and unity among us. We blacks have taken a lion's share of the consequences and continue to do so, and yet every person, from the hate mongers to the advocates, is suffering alongside us.

Even the offensive terms I’ve used here describing human beings with crayon-type colors is a vestige of racism. The amount of color variation in the human family is astounding. An issue of National Geographic last year was dedicated to reminding us that race is a made-up concept. We are made of the same stuff, and the external differences are a tiny percentage of what we are. And yet atrocities and oppression have been perpetrated on the lie of our differences. In the end, it doesn’t matter that race was invented. It was still used powerfully to separate and devalue one over the other.

The first Civil Rights Act enacted in 1866 and another in 1964 could not have happened without whites and others joining in the fight for freedom. We need to be together and learn side by side. We need each other for what lies ahead. Jane and I invite you to cross that bridge with us.

Learn more about “Conference on Civil Rights: A Road Scholar President’s Program

About the Author

Christie Hardwick is founder and curator of Inspiration Gatherings, an executive coach and an ordained minister. Christie is an American Leadership Forum Senior Fellow and faculty member. For five years, she served on the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Christie is spending most of her 60th birthday year on sabbatical in Italy with her wife, Jane. They will return at the end of 2019 for the next chapter in their adventure.


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