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Why Racial Healing Is A Must for Everyone

Why Racial Healing Is A Must for Everyone

Last week, we honored Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and National Day of Racial Healing. Both days represent hope for a more just world – a world without racism. As the nation celebrates on auto-pilot, injustice continues to plague meaningful progress toward that hopeful world. If we are going to end racism, we must be able to come together and have honest conversations about its collective harm. We must heal.

Racism is a familiar yet evasive topic in the United States, acting as a skillful, shapeshifting entity that can neither be identified nor named out loud even when it is the biggest, unspoken truth in the room. People have visceral and often violent responses to conversations about racism, preventing progression in understanding and the ability to correct injustices. Blatantly denying the impact of racism within the nation’s history, co-opting and sabotaging conversations, deflecting to other issues, prioritizing comfort, and unhealthy, emotional immaturity are all weaponized to veil this seemingly elusive ideology.

While there is consensus that racism is harmful, it is difficult to eradicate let alone discuss due to false narratives and fear. A recent National Collaborative for Health Equity survey reported that people want to “work through differences and find lasting common ground”. However, separation and dangerous generalizations ignore the complexities of human identity and potential. This fuels anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, and an unwillingness to acknowledge racism in the 21st century. At best, people have incomplete narratives about groups of people through limited engagement. At worst, people do not consider others as human beings capable of feeling, responding, and experiencing life the same way.

A 2023 Harvard Study on Adult Development report noted that warm “connections with other people” impacted happiness, health, and wellness. We need human connection, but racism and the polarized opinions about its impact contribute to illness and fewer connections with others. This harms everyone in professional and personal relationships.

The police murder of George Floyd and disparities in healthcare during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic sent a shockwave through the social consciousness of the nation. Institutions responded with what became socially acceptable and expected commitments to DEI and antiracist practices. 21 states, 94 counties, and 149 cities declared racism a public health crisis or emergency according to a 2021 American Public Health Association report. Everyone received a collective call to end racism, but there was not a collective call to heal from its dehumanization. In a rush to appear in alignment with the latest social acceptability metrics, the nation bypassed eradicating racism and skipped to denying the need for change – not unlike hoping strategically placed bandages alone will reset bone and heal a festering wound.

We all deserve and need to heal. According to W.K. Kellogg Foundation™, racial healing is to restore to wholeness; to repair damage; and to set right. The foundational belief that everyone has inherent human value, dignity, and worth disrupts the racist idea that some are inherently more or less human – more or less deserving of consideration, resources, trust, and opportunities. Acknowledging the harms that have happened with a shared goal to find racially equitable solutions shifts the conversation from visceral reactions to informed action and a unified approach to change. Racial healing addresses the wounds of separation and works to suture the spaces of false division. This integral pillar of racial justice and racial equity work does not dismiss truth so everyone can get along but rather affirms the very real human responses to injustice so everyone can move forward.

To be sure, racial healing is not always easy. It is an ongoing process that prioritizes liberation over injurious comfort in a system of oppression. Discussing the impact of race brings the evasive, shapeshifting entity to the forefront and centers truth so we can get to the radical work of justice. This is not to say that racial healing solves every issue, but it certainly creates warm connections that will help dismantle the fallacy of racial human hierarchy.

Bernice King posted that her father, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “wanted corrective measures to eradicate racism, not the delusion that it doesn’t exist.” As communities throughout the nation continue to engage in racial justice work, let us connect and strengthen our capacity for difficult conversations by engaging in courageous and compassionate spaces of racial healing. Together, we can heal.

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