Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Racial and Ethnic Conflicts: Reconciling Differences and Healing Divisions

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MCHR Forum on Race Relations, May 22, 2008

Historically speaking, the racial and ethnic divisions that have existed in American society have not only created deep-seated envy and hatred among certain racial and ethnic groups but have always served the best interests of those who profit from those divisions.

It is true that the histories of America is the history of intra and inter group struggles for hegemony and power in American society. Divisions not only exist between races such as whites and blacks, but each racial group also possesses its own disparities based on ethnicity, place of origin, class and other factors.

Blacks and whites have had a history of inter racial conflict in America, but historically speaking many light skinned blacks discriminated against darker skinned blacks and vice versa which made for seldom discussed acute intra social divisions within the black race itself. Furthermore, cultural and racial conflicts exist between African Americans and blacks of Caribbean and or African descent. There has always been a measure of suspicion by which people within a particular racial group have viewed people within that group.

Accordingly, whites have had racial conflict with members of so-called colored races, but there has also been a history of conflict among themselves such as the Irish and English, the Italians and the Irish, and generally between Western European whites and whites of Eastern European descent.

While Inter and intra group conflicts have been with us since the beginning of human history and certainly since the genesis of American society, many of those conflicts have been unilaterally codified into discriminatory policies and practices that have heightened those divisions and kept sore and open the wounds of racial pain and suffering.

The history of America has been the history of a long and twilight struggle for America to finally mature and grow up; to finally come to itself by creating a society in which all people will be respected, fairly treated and given an unbridled chance to actualize their greatest potential notwithstanding race, culture, class, ethnicity, religion, gender or physical condition.

There have always been conflicts between various heterogeneous and homogenous tribes of man and because of man’s discriminating faculties and his structures of consciousness, such disagreement seem to have been inevitable. If we are together long enough, we are bound to disagree on something and usually it is about each other.

Human beings will always, it seems, find ways to dislike someone who is different in some way or unlike themselves. This is a fact of life. Some people do not like fat people, or skinny people, or people with blue eyes, or black hair or people with round faces or angular faces or people who are intelligent or smile in a certain manner. I had a fifth grade teacher who did not like me because I reminded her of her nephew whom she couldn’t stand.

There is something within human nature that is highly discriminating and thereby develops an ordered system of preferences. Much of the acrimony between younger and older generations has to do with everything ranging from clothing styles and dress to music and other preferences.

Should the fact that I like jazz and you like country music really be the thing that divides us. The fact is we both like music.

Many writers and thinkers have stated that if we could truly recognize our differences and celebrate them, that could be a basis for healing our wounds and coming together as races and ethnic groups. The point is to recognize our differences, value them and use them as building blocs for consolidating community.

The problem, they say, is that we let our differences polarize us because we Americans are stuck on the problem of being different. Because groupthink insists that we all be alike, look a like and think alike to have true community, we really can’t get over the fact that people are just by nature different and always will be.

What we should do then is 1) recognize that people are different and that this is the fact and beauty of life; 2) Don’t get hung up on those differences but find ways to common ground around them 3) Recognize that the differences are also what we hold in common and build community around this understanding.

The problem is we keep penalizing and punishing people because they are different especially in ways they cannot help such is how they look, which is silly. That’s because we have bought into the infantile notion that we all have to be the same to find purpose, destiny and meaning in our world.

If we would recognize that in many ways we are the same and we are different and then find ways to build common ground around those different understandings of who and what we are, we could come to healing and reconciliation.

Currently, we say that recognizing those differences and celebrating them is enough. The differences are thing that we also hold in common and are also the same and find ways of building community around them. Really don’t bring a different interpretation to our differences and thus view those differences as things that we have in common rather than things in which we differ.

Conversely, many people have assumed that conflict has existed between various races precisely because of the stark differences between them such as skin color, hair texture, values and assumptive worlds that accompany any social assessments of race and that the way to healing is to honestly recognize those differences and celebrate them. This may be a pretext for racial conflict and separation but is not the whole text.

I believe that groupthink teaches and instills within us this sense of conflict based on these superficial racial and ethnic differences.

I believe that one reason division, separation and hatred have been so persistent in our society is because the people in conflict with each other realize the things they do have in common and rather than go against the grain of the prescribed social formulas, equations and group think, which support and perpetuate the matrixes of power in this society, which benefits from these divisions, it is easier and safer to stay within their prescribed parameters.

People of different racial groups war with each other not simply because they think the people with whom they have conflict are so radically different, but also because either consciously or subconsciously they are so radically similar and because it is easier to stay within the regime and trajectories of thought and values that make such divisions and differences palatable.

It is because we are so radically similar, and we are competing for the same largesse that we find ourselves in perpetual conflict. We say that our division is because we are different and to heal this division we must recognize and celebrate our differences. My belief is that our division is also because we are so radically similar and have not acknowledged those similarities in fear of going against the current predominant regimes of thought whose purpose is to guide our division and keep us separate. To heal and reconcile ourselves to one another is recognizing our radical similarities and to thus use them as a basis for building common ground.

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