The most recent escalations and outrages in our nation’s racial divides have given all of us good cause for pause. Although the situation has shown us heroes, such as Dallas Police Chief David Brown, this does not obscure the darkness of racial tension that exists across the country. The election of the nation’s first African-American president seems to have done nothing to ease the tensions, and concerns about race relations among Americans is, understandably, on the rise. What should be done?
Some politicians are quite sure they know how to solve the issues. The President, for instance, called for more gun-control laws. I do not want to address the gun-control question here, but merely wish to note that gun control laws will not heal the racial divide that afflicts us. If we really want to address the racial divide, I would suggest we focus our efforts elsewhere.
What is the best way to lessen our divides? It might be focusing less on that which divides us and more on that which unites us. Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim point out that increased affirmative action and diversity training actually tend to damage race relations because such efforts divide people into groups of “us” and “them,” which increases the chances of discrimination and resentment. Does anyone really think that the relentless talk of “white privilege” brings us closer to a world where people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character? Instead, Haidt and Jussim cite research that finds that “race was much less prominent in how people categorized each other when individuals also shared some other prominent social characteristic, like membership on a team.” Furthermore, they state that while putting groups into competition with each other stokes hostility, the power of cooperation creates a mind-set of all-for-one-and-one-for-all. True attempts to heal our racial divide must start by emphasizing our common identity and common loyalties. (Happily, it appears that at least one politician gets this; see here.)
All this is not as unlikely as it seems. Recent polls indicate that majorities of both whites and blacks oppose the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of racial quotas at colleges. But truthfully, what is currently needed is not so much opposition to affirmative action (though that does have its place); what is needed is a focus on that which unites us. The rest will follow. Will our nation’s leaders rise to the occasion?