Throughout the world, extreme racism, nationalism, anti-Semitism and other ethnic and religious biases are sustained by an antiquated notion that the human family can be ranked by physical characteristics and ascribed traits. This hierarchy of human value that fuels racist behavior like the El Paso shootings and hate rhetoric like the “Go Back” chants targeting four minority congresswomen is the foundation for those seeking political gains in a divided society.
The ill-conceived belief that skin color determines whether someone is inferior or superior has hardened barriers among populations, leaving racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant behavior ingrained in America and other nations. In the U.S., it perpetuated the enslavement of blacks, genocide among Indigenous people and the embrace of institutionalized racism for centuries.
It must stop.
But uprooting the false belief in the hierarchy of human value won’t come easy. This antiquated way of life is a fossil formed during the 14th century and crystallized in the 18th century by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, known as the father of taxonomy. Linnaeus first codified the scientific frame of human hierarchy and listed human “races” based on physical appearances and on continents of origin. He placed people like himself – Europeans – at the top of this hierarchy, and he put other so-called “races” in descending order of humanness – with Africans at the bottom.
Unlike other fossils, the belief in a hierarchy of human value still lives deeply in hearts and minds today. This idea must end and take its place in museums like other relics. The idea of a predetermined hierarchy must die now, before it kills us all.
What’s the answer?
The RxRacial Healing National Mobilization Campaign is activating a critical mass of people committed to working together and healing the wounds of the past as we seek to end racism and the inequities it has created.
By defining racism as stemming from an entrenched belief system, RxRacial Healing provides a platform for launching a new model of relatedness that is grounded in the knowledge of our interconnected and equal worth. With this foundational idea in place, we can shape new ways of living, policing and governing, as well as distributing resources more equitably because a critical mass of people will be enlightened – at their collective common interests.
In order to move forward against racism, our nation must adopt this innovative, even revolutionary, approach: heal the wounds of our past and learn to work together with civility and, indeed, with love. We must build the individual and collective capacity to see ourselves in the face of the other. Buckminster Fuller, a 20th century inventor and visionary, once said: “You never change things by fighting the existing model. You must create a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
RxRacial Healing includes five organizations – Association of American Colleges and Universities, American Public Health Association, Community Action Partnership, National Collaborative for Health Equity and Ntianu Center for Healing and Nature – that reach communities at the grassroots level. While their work has already begun, the organizations seek to expand their partnerships and resources to invigorate efforts to facilitate racial healing, improve equity in communities and eradicate racism.
The incapacity to value all human beings prevents optimal wellbeing and happiness. Our hearts and brains are designed to resonate with harmonious relationships. The opposite – fear and anxiety, separation, alienation and hate – induce stress and distress, causing a cascade of illnesses. The impact of racism is a burden on its victims, exasperating health disparities that prematurely end lives.
When I was 15, I began to understand the power of racism and the need for healing. I attended a summer arts encampment in Chautauqua, New York. Away from home for six weeks, I was the second person of color in the town. My roommate was of a different race, but we became friends.
On one of the camp’s last days, as I walked past all the quaint Victorian houses on our little street, an ambulance appeared in front of our yellow house. Hurrying to see what was happening, I reached the front stairs in time to see my roommate carried out unconscious on a stretcher. I asked our house parents what happened and was told she had tried to commit suicide with pills.
I ran up to our room, which suddenly seemed unbearably small. There, I found a note she had written: "I don't want to go home. My father has taught me to hate black people. I now know that is a lie. I don't want to live like that anymore."
The summer ended, and I never learned her fate. I never forgot how it felt to have lived a brief moment within an innocent and authentic friendship which had pierced the veneer of racial hatred.
Now, to save our nation, millions must do the same.
Gail C. Christopher (https://drgailcchristopher.com/), the former senior advisor and vice president of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, is the architect and implementer of more than $1 billion in efforts spanning four decades to facilitate racial healing and jettison racism from American society.