At the Capitol during this legislative session, I watched a House debate on funding smaller classroom sizes and Charter schools turn into an angry discussion about racism. So many of us feel subject to racism and so many of us are told we are to blame.
I think the first step in healing racism is defining it. Dr. Johnetta Cole, president of Bennett College, opened a race and reconciliation panel I attended by saying: "I've got good news and I've got bad news: The good news is racism doesn't exist. The bad news is racism does exist if we believe it to be so."
Now that's not the first time I've heard racism equated with thought. But it was the first time I heard someone say that racism does not exist.
A geneticist friend of mine loves to talk about race. She contends that race "is a made-up notion that pretends to give scientific justification for dividing the human species into separate categories, and is a figment of our imaginations created to justify unjust behavior."
Alan Goodman, a biological anthropologist would agree with my friend. On the PBS special "Race: The Power of Illusion," Goodman said, "To understand why the idea of race is a biological myth requires a major paradigm shift, a shift in perspective; race is not based on biology, but race is rather an idea we ascribe to biology."
Dr. Cole wasn't implying that our history of enslaving Africans and the institutionalization of racism did not happen. It did. But her words inspired me to ask: How do I identify myself and those around me?
I hope to answer that question as Mary Baker Eddy does from a more spiritual perspective: "Identity is the reflection of Spirit, the reflection in multifarious forms of the living principle Love." ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures")
If I am able to seem, even slightly, that I am the very image and likeness of love then no person, place or thing can make me feel otherwise. Some of our greatest leaders, such as Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, subscribed to this perspective. And it availed in them the power to invoke immeasurable social change.
Originally published Sunday, April 17, 2005