There is a history of fear between black people and white people in America. It goes back to the day the first slave ship landed at Jamestown harbor, and one group of people started buying and selling another. It’s an ugly history.
There is also a history of progress. A hundred years ago, segregation, or the principle of separate but equal, was practiced by much of the country. It was okay to say that white people and black people had to go to different schools and live in different neighborhoods and eat at different restaurants, the law held, as long as their separate facilities were also equal in quality.
In 1954, the Supreme Court stated the obvious--that separate could never be equal. The justices struck down legal segregation, leading to a wave of further rulings and new laws like the Civil Rights Act. Today, discrimination has been mostly outlawed.
But today, the fear is still there. People are dying because of the color of their skin or because of the uniforms they wear. People feel like they need to take sides, which just creates more fear.
Passing laws has not been enough. What is the next step? How do we reach peace and justice and healing?
To find peace, we have to go deeper. We have to remember how to see.
There are different levels of being on which we can see the world. Most of us see on the level of the material or the physical. We see ourselves as bodies. We see other people, with other bodies, as separate from us.
It’s normal to see the world this way. The problem is that for most of us, this is all we see. We see ourselves as separate from everyone else, and in doing so, practice segregation in our own minds. If we only see ourselves as separate, we can never see each other as equal. This is where our prejudice and fear of one another really comes from.
So we have to look deeper, to the level where there is no separation, just unity. We can call this the heart level. Some have called it Christ or Brahman or Allah. Others have called it emptiness or openness. It has many names, and its name doesn’t matter.
There are as many paths to the heart level as there are people to walk them. Teachers of all faiths and traditions say that it boils down to love and service and honesty. If we can practice those qualities with ourselves and each other, we can break free from the prison of separation. We can begin to see the face of God in everyone.
Wouldn’t that be such a relief?
The way I see it, we have two choices. We can continue to see each other as separate. We can continue to believe that appearances actually mean something significant. We can choose sides, and stay stuck in the cycle of violence and pain and anger. We can stay afraid.
Or we can break the cycle. We can practice seeing each other from the heart, not just from the head. We can learn to see ourselves in each other, and embrace the unity of all beings.
Part of choosing to break the cycle is forgiveness. We have to forgive for how we’ve hurt and been hurt. Nobody has gotten through clean. It’s okay.
Part of choosing to break the cycle is also accepting responsibility for our own parts in all of this. Most of us struggle with prejudice and judgement. I know I do. Most of us still see each other as separate. I know I do. All of us have played a role in getting to where we are.
That also means that each of us has the power to set us free.
Ian is a writer and the founder and editor of Open Heart Beginner's Mind.