Months ago, Rashad Robinson, president of the civil rights organization Color Of Change, wrote, “We don’t get racial justice out of a true democracy. We get a true democracy out of racial justice.”
The horror of the past week, in which a violent mob brandishing Confederate flags and nooses invaded the U.S. Capitol to overturn the results of a free and fair democratic election, drives home the wisdom of these words. If this is who we are as a nation, what do we do now? As Americans, how will we resolve our current divides on basic and urgent questions: Who are we? Whose lives matter? Who belongs? What do we want to be?
As last week makes clear, and as is true for any change of lasting consequence, the answers to these questions lie as much in culture as in policy or politics. In my view, two strands of current cultural movements hold great potential for driving genuine progress.
First are the movements of reckoning — reckoning with the truth of our country’s legacy of racism and patriarchy — brought to the fore by Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. These movements channel rage and insist on centering dignity and the principle that no group of people has the right to oppress another. Without such reckoning, we are not likely to succeed as a multi-racial democracy.
Second are the movements toward bridging divides. These movements posit that we have more in common than what separates us, regardless of our different histories, identities, and experiences. Without such ability to bridge our differences and refuse their being manipulated, we are not likely to succeed as a pluralistic democracy.
At times, these two schools of thought can feel like they’re guided by binary thinking: either demanding atonement for white supremacy and misogyny before there can be any bonding across difference OR calling for unity by emphasizing what we share in common, even if it means suppressing the pain of a history of oppression. We need to push for both atonement and unity, holding these imperatives in the same frame.
Read the full article about building the America that never was by Hilary Pennington at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.