Martin Luther King Day is here once again. It is holiday from every day life so the country may honor MLK Jr and focus on race relations. In past years we have spent the holiday celebrating all the gains Dr. King, and the millions of others who supported his work, made for civil rights. We have celebrated how far we have come as a nation.
On Martin Luther King Day 2015 there seems instead to be a sense of how far we haven’t come, and how much work continues. This can sometimes feel so disheartening we are tempted to try to ignore the pain of separation and racism which still exists. Due to the deep scars of racism we may feel unable to go forward and so instead to try to bury or minimize the problems. This is not unlike the survival mechanisms of dysfunctional family relationships, just on a larger national scale.
I have yet to find, in my work or research that problems or concerns are most effectively addressed and solved by pretending the problems are not there. On the contrary, problems need to be identified first, and attention given to solutions for the future. This often involves feeling some hard feelings, and saying some words that are new and difficult. This often means being MORE uncomfortable for a while then when we were in denial or minimizing. While it may feel difficult, the gains include deeper honesty and greater connection. This process gives us strength and integrity that simply can not exist in systems where dysfunction thrives.
Recently I heard a colleague speak of his time in South Africa in 2010. South Africa, as a country, is actively working to eliminate racism through legal equality and healing. He spoke of meetings where both black and white South Africans were weeping, because of the pain of racism. They were acknowledging and grieving together all the years spent adhering to a system of disconnection and harm.
As a country there are many changes that need to be in place for racism to be further reduced and eliminated. While I am not a law maker or public policy creator I support their efforts to dismantle racial barriers which keep us divided. I am a family therapist, trained to help families learn better ways to communicate, support each other and heal. This can only occur when families realize there are problems in the first place. On this Martin Luther King Day 2015 I encourage all of us take a moment to acknowledge that there is a problem called racism which harms us personally and as a nation. It is by doing so that we will move forward as opposed to feeling stuck and letting racism continue.
Thank you Dr. King for helping us to become a better family. Let us not give up now!