Articles

Look in the Mirror

August 10, 2016 by

The recent fatal altercations between black men and white police officers have forced us to recognize – if we didn’t already know it – that race is still a major point of division here in the United States. Watching the furor unleashed by these events, it’s easy to think that this is a black and blue problem that doesn’t concern me. As a peace-loving white civilian, what business do I have wading into the fray?

However, I’m starting to realize that this is my problem. It’s everyone’s problem. And the problem is not out on the streets of Chicago or Dallas or Baton Rouge – it’s inside me. And probably inside you. But there is an active first step each one of us can take toward a solution.

If you wonder, as I do, what can possibly be done to dispel this violence and heal the wounds, take an honest look in the mirror and address your own attitudes. That’s the advice from Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson, who, as a popular social media commentator and author of Under Our Skin, has become one of the most insightful voices on the subject of race in our generation.

“We need to look ourselves in the mirror,” Watson told NFL Network in the wake of the Dallas rampage in July. “We need to say, ‘You know what, the racist is not necessarily out there, there are some pieces of him that are in here. How do we deal with those, what are some honest things I need to say to myself in order to get that out?’”

Watson’s words gave me pause. I certainly don’t consider myself to be a racist. While I primarily associate with people who are white, like myself, I’ve never found race to be a major barrier in forming friendships, engaging in conversations, or working together. I was raised to respect and appreciate people from other races, backgrounds and cultures – my grandfather participated in civil rights marches in the 1960s – and I count Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela among my personal heroes.

And yet, when I take that look in the mirror, I see someone who carries prejudices based on the appearance of others. I see someone who does not always try to understand other people’s perspectives but is easily offended when someone else doesn’t understand mine. I see someone who doesn’t readily advance beyond his own comfort zone and seek relationships with people who are different or have different life experiences. I don’t like to think of myself like this, but that’s the honest picture.

That’s all very well; honest self-criticism is useful on many fronts, but how does it contribute to a national healing? Martin Luther King was on to something when he observed in his adversaries “a hatred born of fear, and that fear came because people didn’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they are separate from one another.” Misunderstanding those that are different from us causes us to distrust them. When we come into contact with those we distrust, we feel threatened by them, and fear turns to hatred. I can imagine that as being the starting point on both sides in any of the recent fatal police-civilian incidents.

The good news is that understanding the root of the problem can help us discover the solution. Once we’ve acknowledged the attitudes inside us that separate us, we can proactively seek to build relationships with those whom we’ve been avoiding, misunderstanding, and distrusting. Of course, fear of “the other” is not a new concept; there have been hundreds of academic papers and books written about it. But we need to take it beyond the intellectual sphere. Here’s one example that worked: in Wichita recently, the city police department invited would-be Black Lives Matter protestors to a neighborhood barbecue. By facilitating face to face interaction, the event paved the way for mutual understanding and working together instead of opposition.

a mother and child from the Bayboro Bruderhof House taking a walk with some elderly neighbors

This is exactly what all of us need to be doing. Tearing down the barriers in our own hearts and minds will open us to connect with the hearts and minds of others. As Benjamin Watson put it in the above interview, “We don’t always have to agree with each other, but the one thing we need to do is see people how God sees them, as being image bearers of his, and to love people like he would love them, and to respect each other.” This is impossible without recognizing and addressing the biases and prejudices each of us carry around inside. The first step toward progress is an honest look in the mirror.


Jesse Wiser lives at Bellvale with his wife Gladys and their nine and a half month old daughter Hannah.

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  • Dear Jesse; You pointed out very importand issue. I live in Turkey. We also face the same problem here . In this century , there should not be any discrimination and racism among the people. We should love our neighbors as created by God. If we can not love someone , we can at least respect to him. Each of us has rights to live in this World. Unfortunately the discrimination is everywhere in World. But the solution is the loving each other. And real Democracy

    METİN ERDEM
  • I am looking into that mirror and working towards changing. Thank you for showing me my blips.

    Lydia Lewis