Conversations For Change: A Response to Karl and Carla

Conversations For Change: A Response to Karl and Carla

Editor’s note [1]
Hello, Karl and Carla,

I appreciate your thoughts and insights.  You are two of my most valued friends, and I look up to both of you for your incisive intelligence, broad perspectives, straight talk, openness, authenticity and empathy.  I feel this conversation is a teachable moment for all of us.

I want to explain why I, as an individual, thought Mr. Bouie’s comments were right on target, and represented perhaps the only time I have ever felt that I got practical, useful advice in anti-racist behavior.

Research studies I read in pursuit of my doctoral dissertation establish that strong negative racial biases against persons of color run even in the most egalitarian people.  I looked within and found these biases in myself. My understanding of this research teaches me not to be surprised to find it, but to understand it as both a crippling distortion of judgment and a truly malevolent strain of belief.  It is as if I live with a chronic disorder that cannot be “cured,” one that creates a sort of dementia affecting thought processes around certain outgroups.  Constant treatment is necessary to prevent symptom recurrence.

I have also read, more recently, of the effects of fear on the human heart and mind.  In brief, I’ve learned that instilling certain kinds of fear creates an emotional turn (even in “ordinary people”) to fear and hatred of outgroups.  This can’t help but trigger the emergence of racial biases that lie dormant or suppressed.[2]

It therefore stands to reason that, while racism may not have initially been the primary reason that many voters got interested in Trump in the first place (this is something I cannot judge), racist sentiments have become mobilized and are now a rampant factor in how our country is going.

Carla Gates; Laurie Coltri
Carla Gates (left) and Laurie Coltri (adjacent) sing at Vigil for Black Lives, held monthly by UUCC at entrance to The Mall in Columbia

I also see that in the aftermath of the election, these sentiments have become further normalized by peer pressure. There have been a plethora of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic episodes on a scale I’ve never seen before … and I’m in my 60s.

Thus, even if, statistically, Karl is right in that economic inequality may have triggered the results of the election; in a more urgent sense, I think Bouie is right.  If for no other reason than to counter the rising normalization of bigotry, I feel we need to heed Mr. Bouie’s advice, and take a particularly strong and vocal stand against racism.  And I feel Carla is dead right to state that we white folks have to take this on, if for no other reason than the devaluing of the comments of persons of color that comes from racial prejudice.

Bouie told us that the best response to what is happening right now is to directly confront racial bias and animus wherever we see it.  I live in an echo chamber of progressives, so I’ve tried to do this by wearing my Black Lives Matter button prominently, and being ready to engage with people who don’t like it.  I’ve gone from being afraid to wear the button in public to wearing it with pride, hoping to be confronted.  Bring it on.

Never before have I gotten such a clear and concrete piece of advice about how to be anti-racist, and I’m deeply grateful for Mr. Bouie for showing us the way.

Conversations for change series:

A Reflection (Karl Branting)
A Response to Karl (Carla Gates)
A Response to Karl and Carla (Laurie Coltri)


[1] Editor’s Note: On Thursday, March 2, 2017, UUCC hosted the first of its “Conversations For Change” speaker’s series.  The featured speaker was Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent for Slate Magazine.  Bouie’s website notes that he is also a political analyst for CBS News. He says “I cover campaigns, elections, and national affairs. My work has appeared either online or in print at the New Yorker, the Washington Post, The Nation, and other publications.”

These comments by UUCC member and blog managing editor Laurie Coltri first appeared in slightly different form as a comment to Karl Branting’s post, Conversations for Change: A Reflection, and to the response by Carla Gates.  Karl had argued that racism, alone, cannot explain the election of Donald Trump as US President in 2016, and Carla’s post contained rebuttal.  The three opinions are being republished simultaneously.  UUCC values its diverse views and we wish to re-present these reactions to the important topic of racial justice as a tryptych.

[2] See, eg, Taub, Amanda (2016), “The rise of American authoritarianism,” Vox, URL: http://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism [accessed April 3 2017]

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