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Are We Stuck in Stereotypical Thinking?

The summer my son was six years old, our white church invited a black congregation to participate in a joint Vacation Bible School. It seemed like a great idea! My husband agreed to transport black children to our church. Early each morning, our son left with his dad on a bus, which we parked in front of our house. One evening, my six-year-old asked, “Why do the kids make me sit by myself at the back of the bus?” His question initiated a painful conversation about injustices in history, continuing pain, and ‘pay-backs’ related to long years of unkind treatment.

Fast forward. This week, I attended a meeting of Black Lives Matter. We listened to young, well-educated, black panel members share concerns and articulate ideas for new beginnings. Legitimate concerns need to be expressed and heard. Those of us who naively thought most racial prejudices ended now encounter a new reality. Old stereotypes thrive in the minds of blacks and whites alike. Stereotypical thinking diminishes critical insights and leads to inaccurate assumptions. For example, just as the vast majority of police put their lives on the line to protect society, most black citizens work hard to improve their lives. Neither group fits current stereotypical thinking. Panel members clearly articulated ideas such as these. Below, I share some of the other ideas expressed.

  1. The first suggestion from the panel focused on re-educating law enforcement officers. Although police bashing is unacceptable to me, I support body cameras along with education and sensitivity classes.

  1. I feel comfortable asking universities to remove statues of confederate officers. Yes, I understand the importance of respecting history. History that offends must come down like that confederate battle flag.

  2. A suggestion to attend school board meetings seems logical since we all benefit from involvement with schools.

  3. One individual suggested noting the improvements and accomplishments of schools with predominantly black populations. Noticing what works provides a way to alter stereotypical thinking.

  4. A suggestion to communicate with state legislatures makes sense. The message? Let’s use the money now going to build new prisons, toward improving schools.

  5. A final panel member stated that people living in poverty hold different perspectives than those living in moderate or extreme affluence. If the poor could share their perspectives, others might become less prejudiced.

When my son rode alone at the back of the bus, he gained a unique perspective as a middle-income white child. Today, we can benefit from new insights. Perhaps when we share our perspectives with a willingness to relinquish our mistaken judgments, we can evolve; our stereotypes can be replaced with truth. The time has come for all of us to get on the bus and ride together without sending anyone to the back.


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