Today I want to solve one of countries long standing issues:
Race Relations in America
In order to solve this centuries long problem we're going to look at race relations in America through the lens of a romantic drama. Hollywood and reality television have taught me quite a bit about relationships, so I figure if we look at the relationships between different races like we look at romantic relationships we could make some serious progress.
Understand that while writing this post I'm making a few assumptions about my readership. I assume we all agree that there is a race issue in the United States. I assume that we all have different views on what those issues are, but again do not deny the existence of the issues. I assume that we all want to fix these issues. I assume that some do not have ideas on how to fix these issues, and that those who do have ideas on fixing our issues will present a spectrum of solutions. I assume that we don't blame any single person, event or race for these issues. Lastly, I assume that none of us have the ability to directly affect an entire race, but rather we have the ability to directly affect the people around us. Okay, let's do this.
According to Grey's Anatomy, a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship has a few key characteristics — both parties feel validated, both parties feel most of their expectations are being met, both parties need to have separate and common interests, both parties need to respect each other, neither party takes advantage of or manipulates the other, and both parties recognize that it's okay to disagree. I'm 100% positive that there are other characteristics of a healthy relationship, but I'm going to focus on these specific ones.
In a relationship we need to feel validated. Feeling validated entails feeling like someone else is listening to you with genuine interest and is acknowledging the information you're giving them. Imagine having a significant other who never really listened to what you were saying. Whenever you talked about how you were feeling or what happened at work that day they answered with a halfhearted "Uh huh" and then asked you to pass the remote control. I doubt your relationship would last long. Too often, especially on social media, this is the case between the races. Too many posts, tweets and comments fall on deaf ears. Personally, I don't feel like I've validated any of my Native American friends during what seems to be a very controversial time for them, surrounding Standing Rock. Although I have almost no knowledge of what the situation is I can validate my Native American friend Abe, by commenting on his Facebook post with a simple sentiment.
"I don't know much about what's going on at Standing Rock, but I hope it gets resolved my friend. Love ya bro!"
I didn't give my opinion on the situation. I didn't counter whatever claim he is making. I didn't publicly agree or disagree with any of Abe's thoughts. All I did was let Abe know that I'm listening and that I consider him a friend. Too often in our relationships we jump to giving our opinion instead of validating the one we just heard. Validating someone else's thought just let's them know that you listened to what they had to say and you care.
The next characteristic of a healthy relationship is having your expectations met. In order to have your expectations met you have to vocalize them. Making your expectations known can be difficult. You could just have an open conversation and explain what you expect out of the relationship, or you could put together some context clues. To improve race relations simply ask friends from a different culture what is important to them. Learning about what is important to them will give you a pretty good idea of what their expectations are.
For example, I served an LDS mission in the Bay Area teaching and serving primarily Tongan people. I ate a lot of food. Because I now speak Tongan I have a lot of Polynesian friends. I've asked multiple Polynesian friends what are some things that are important to them and an answer that I always get is family. To say family is important in the Polynesian culture is an understatement. The Tongan word for family is an English cognate fāmili because there was no word in the language to describe ones immediate family. The idea of the nuclear family had to be introduced. Before western settlers there was only a word used to describe basically everyone you were related to. Knowing how important family, immediate or extended, is to many of my Polynesian friends gives me a pretty good idea of their expectations in a racial relationship. They expect me to respect their family commitments. They'd expect their community, city, state and country to uphold laws that protect the family. When those expectations aren't met that is when there is discord. We'll get to agreeing to disagree on things later, but for now just understand that a person needs to have most of their expectations met in a relationship. A few minor letdowns keeps us humble, but constant letdown will breaks any group or individual.
An integral part of any relationship is common interests. I think it's important for both parties to have interests and hobbies that are their own, but also interests that are common and can be bonded over. My wife Annie is really into photography. If you haven't already, check out her photography Instagram. I'm not particularly passionate about photography but I think it's cool that Annie has her own thing. I am extremely passionate about music. Annie enjoys music also, but she knows how important the art form is to me. Separately, we both invest time in to our hobbies and interests. However, we also have things that we enjoy together. We both really like going to the movies. There's literally nothing better than movie popcorn and a cold Coke. Annie and I love going to the movies and love doing it together. It builds our relationship every time. Finding common interests is probably the easiest way to strengthen your relationship with anyone. What do your friends and acquaintances from other races enjoy doing? Have you ever tried what they like? Have you ever asked about what they're into? You don't have to ask like a creepy dude who's oddly interested in your coworkers private life, but the best way to improve race relations is to improve your relations. So just try.
This characteristic of a good relationship should go without saying, so I'm not going to spend a ton of time here. In short if you've ever made a joke about someone's race that you wouldn't say to their face you haven't figured this one out. You'll get there soon though. I hope.
Let's pause for a second and reinforce what we're trying to accomplish here. We're looking at race relations in America through the lens of a romantic drama. We're applying everything we know about good romantic relationships to relationships between the races. Okay, let's keep going.
This brings us to our next characteristic — in a healthy relationship no one is taken advantage of. In a romantic relationship when we feel like someone is manipulating us or taking everything from us without giving back to the relationship we want out, and rightfully so. If you watch the news at all it seems like every race is being taken advantage of somehow. So what do we do? Make sure that we as individuals aren't taking advantage of the people around us. If it's difficult for you give a black guy with dreads the benefit of the doubt, change. If it's hard for you to trust white people, change. If you automatically assume because someone doesn't speak English they are less intelligent, change. These aren't heinous acts of racism, but they add to our issue of race relations and set us up to take advantage of each other.
Lastly, it's okay to disagree. If there's anything I've learned from reality television romance it's that it's okay to disagree. Having our own opinions is what makes the world better. What isn't okay is calling your wife stupid because her idea is different than yours, or commenting on your husband's Facebook status that he's an ignorant fool if he thinks this idea will work. We just wouldn't do it. So why do we do it to our friends? If someone from a different race has a differing opinion it's okay. There's no need to get angry. Simply agree to disagree and keep moving. Resist the urge to comment the first thing that comes to your mind on Facebook. Trust me. It's better this way.
In short, look at the relationships you have with people of other races. Are you helping or hurting our race relations issue? If you realize you're hurting it don't beat yourself up. Just do better. Personally, I have to stop making so many jokes about the crazy things I think white people do. So, don't worry. You're not alone.
See you guys later,