Healing the Wounds of Racism
Talking with one another about physical ailments such as colds, the flu, broken bones, and sprained joints can help us learn how to find healing. However, we also benefit when we address the challenges of incorrect thoughts and attitudes, including words and actions that harm others as well as ourselves.
Some have felt the sting of being considered “the other” or “the lesser.” It seems to me that such attitudes have increased in the world around us in recent years, perhaps due in part to the vitriolic language that has come to permeate political speech in various nations around the globe. Nothing could be further from the teachings of Jesus Christ than for any human being to think of himself or herself as somehow superior to another human being based upon race, sex, nationality, ethnic origins, economic circumstances, or other characteristics (see Quentin L. Cook, "The Eternal Everyday," Ensign, Nov. 2017).
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) spoke broadly to that topic in his address “The Need for Greater Kindness,” given in the general priesthood session of April 2006 general conference:
“I have wondered why there is so much hatred in the world. ...
“Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. ...
“… Racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. ...
”Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children” (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign, May 2006).
Racial and cultural bias is too widespread in the world. Sadly the practices associated with racism and prejudice have caused deep wounds for many.
As we endeavor to heal the wounds of racism, it is critically important to understand that negative ideas toward others based on racial or cultural differences hurt not only those who are the focus of such an attitude; they hurt the practitioner just as much, if not more. We are Christians, disciples of Christ, yet when we allow the attitudes of the world to infiltrate our minds to the point of blindness about their existence, we limit our progress toward that which our Father expects us to become, and we enter into a sin that often has lasting consequences.
Here are four steps each of us needs to take so that we can all move forward together in our efforts to reach our divine potential.
1. Acknowledge the Problem
Some people don’t recognize that a problem exists. Last fall, following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, involving white supremacists and counter-protestors, the Church issued two formal statements denouncing racism while advising members and others that they “should be troubled by the increase of intolerance in both words and actions that we see everywhere” (see "Church Issues Statements on Situation in Charlottesville, Virginia," Aug. 13, 2017, mormonnewsroom.org).
The first step toward healing is the realization that the problem exists, even among some of us in the Church, as President Hinckley pointed out. We cannot fix that which we overlook or deny. Our attitudes toward others of a different race or of a different culture should not be considered a minor matter. Viewing them as such only affirms a willingness to stay unchanged.
Some of those attitudes seem to carry over from past beliefs given as speculations for why black male members of the Church couldn’t hold the priesthood from the mid-1800s to 1978.
I am black, an African-American convert who this year celebrates with millions of members the 40th anniversary of the priesthood being extended “to all worthy male members” (see Official Declaration 2). Since that time, Church leaders have fully disavowed past speculation for why the priesthood was withheld, including the notion of blacks being less valiant in the premortal existence. Unfortunately, racially insensitive comments and attitudes concerning persons of color have not all gone away yet.
2. Recognize It in Ourselves
Some people acknowledge the problem but may not recognize it in themselves. Sometimes racism is so subtle, we may not realize we’re expressing it.
How are we to judge when are our thoughts and comments might be out of line with gospel teachings? Consider how the following examples could represent racism. How would the Lord have you change your heart if you recognize that you:
- Prefer associating only with those of your own race and think others should too.
- Believe it’s OK to discriminate when selling or renting a home.
- Don’t initiate a friendship (or respond to friendly overtures) because of racial differences.
- Aren’t happy if your children associate with those of a particular race.
- Feel proud of yourself when you behave well toward someone of another race.
- Would have difficulty welcoming someone of a particular race into your family circle.
- Feel less compassion toward those of a different race who suffer the effects of poverty, war, famine, crime, and so on.
- Assume that a person of another race (or who looks different) must be from another country.
- Make jokes or disparaging remarks relating to someone’s race or a racial group.
- Believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ supports any racist thinking or behavior.
- Justify racist attitudes or behaviors because of similar attitudes or behaviors shown by other good people, including Church leaders or members.
If you recognize any of these thoughts or attitudes in yourself, you have identified an opportunity to grow and become more Christlike as you work to overcome them.
3. Learn a New Approach
While racism yet exists in the world, I don’t mean to suggest that everyone is racist. There are people, including some Latter-day Saints, who fall into a category whose concerns might be expressed this way: “I feel uncomfortable or self-conscious around certain racial or ethnic groups because I’ve never been around them much. I’m not sure how to behave. I’m worried about coming off as racist when in reality I’m just uncomfortable and hyper-aware of differences.”
If you are seeking a way to approach those who may appear different, I offer this advice, which has helped me negotiate life’s pathways. Simply put, I meet people where I “find” them. This means I try not to enter into any encounter with a predetermined set of ideas. Meet the person, not the color. Greet the individual, not the ethnicity. See the child of God for who he or she really is—a brother or sister—rather than someone different.
Along with meeting people where we find them, we can apply a well-considered truth that a dear friend shared with me.
We are a community of talkers. We talk about ourselves, our historical families, our children, and often our faith. And while all of that is a form of sharing, it would be beneficial if we became a community of listeners. If we first endeavored to truly hear from those we consider as “the other,” and if our honest focus was to let them share of their lives, their histories, their families, their hopes, and their pains, not only would we gain a greater understanding, but this practice would go a long way toward healing the wounds of racism.
May each of us acknowledge the ongoing harm of racism in the world and recognize it when we see it in ourselves. To the extent that we do this and are willing to make necessary changes, we will help heal the wounds of racism and free ourselves and others to move forward together toward our divine potential as children of our Heavenly Father (see Malachi 2:10).
Darius Gray is a founding member and the former president of Genesis, a group established in October 1971 by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that helps serve the needs of African-American members. He lives in Utah.