Beginning the journey to racial healing

Sharon E. Davis, Special to WiG

We as human beings had the ability to dig ourselves into this ditch of racism and we can dig ourselves out. Here are seven things I know for sure about racism:

• It is not the fault of people today that we are in this ditch. There’s no room for blame.

• More laws won’t fix the problem. 

• Racism is very young in our human history and only went global in the 1600s. It is not innate. 

• If we can’t successfully talk about race, we can’t learn. And if we can’t learn, it won’t go away.

• A next Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or a new common enemy like space aliens will not save us.

• Every race and culture has a role and work to do in healing the problem. 

Did the ‘60s fail us?

Leaders in the 1960s set a good foundation for upholding the Constitution’s commitment to the pursuit of happiness for everyone. But our society still experiences some of the most violent acts imaginable — and not just against people of color. Do we not get the connecting violence dots of race, heterosexism (homophobia) and almost exclusively white suburban school shootings? What happens to the most vulnerable in our society also visits the most privileged in one form or another. 

In some ways, the 1960s were easier for us to wrap our head around. Civil rights folks from all races and cultures had a common focus — upholding the Constitution and its mandate for equality under the law. The law was expected to be colorblind. But the ideal of colorblindness will not stop the murders in places like Ferguson and Milwaukee. 

What’s different today?

The new watchword is equity — the recognition that it is a human virtue like truthfulness and kindness. Equity recognizes the oneness of the human species and demands “justice for all.”

Unfortunately, we have all grown up in an environment that teaches us some people aren’t quite as deserving as others. We see this played out as racism, heterosexism, sexism and all the other -isms we know. When the –isms are addressed, we all benefit. Consider the movement among physically challenged people to demand sidewalks and curbs suited to their needs. Everyone benefited — new fathers with baby strollers, the elderly, bicycle riders, etc.

When we address the inequities reserved for the most vulnerable people, then everybody moves ahead. The Milwaukee that only benefits some will not attract the growth and development that will provide a comfortable future for all.

The path forward

We fear the emotions surrounding dealing with racism because we haven’t been taught how to discuss it. The penalties for making mistakes can be embarrassing and severe. Here’s the path I took to break my own “don’t-talk rule”:

• It’s not my job to fix other people as it relates to race. I have enough work to do on myself. The incorrect stuff I learned is emotionally set in me, but I can redirect my thinking and response. The incorrect stuff is a distortion of reality.  

• I made a conscious decision to learn and grow. I pay attention to times when I’m tempted to let my fear or judgments override my value system. I refuse to leave a legacy of racism for my grandson.

• I know that if I was born a white woman in the United States, I would act like her, talk like her and think like her. That realization not only changed my attitude but how other people sense me.

There are four fundamental things to know about racial healing:

• Only talking about one side of the coin distorts our worldview.

• Accept that white people of goodwill don’t know what they don’t know. Remember the white s/heroes of racial civil rights.

• People of color must not internalize the lie of inferiority and stop acting it out. This includes not using the “N” word and believing that it’s not cool to excel in school.

• Consider what the oneness of humankind means physically, intellectually, socially, psychologically and spiritually.

I decided I wouldn’t give up when dealing with racism got hard. I read everything I could. I learned more about myself than anybody else, and I accepted the fact that I will make mistakes. Some have been embarrassing, but my efforts and willingness to learn have gotten me many passes with people. I ask that they help me grow.

I discovered my new role and talents as part of fixing the problem. It is completely different from what I imagined.  A radio talk host and author? My, my.

I found people and racial healing tools that made sense to me and I trust them. 

I don’t have all the answers, but I found experts who do have pieces of the answer. That’s why I wrote a book as a racial healing learning tool. You don’t have to buy my book. The interviews are available free online.

There’s a big difference between entertainment, talking and actually dialoguing with one another. We will never be able to learn all of the written and unwritten rules of various cultures — they are way too complex. My fellow human beings can trust that I will continue to be in a learning mode. 

There is an architecture and design to racial healing, just as there’s an architecture and design to racism. Once I started replacing fear and embarrassment with the desire to engage in the healing process, my life opened up to more people. It feels good to continue to grow into my new role — and perhaps leave a contribution that will last for generations.

The business community and nonprofits hold great promise. For the most part, these sectors are less segregated than our neighborhoods. This is where we have one of the greatest opportunities to learn new ways and unlearn some very bad habits.

I have faith in our human family. We have demonstrated that we can get better and do better — just not always fast enough.

Sharon E. Davis is a former Information Technology executive and now president of SeDA Consulting, which provides strategic people planning, executive coaching and change management. She also has hosted the VoiceAmerica radio show, A Safe Place to Talk about Race and is author of the book A Safe Place to Talk about Race, 10 Thought-Provoking Interviews. She recently moved to Milwaukee to be close to her grandson. For more about Davis and her work, go to