Podcast: How We Can Improve Race Relations in the US
Author: Dr. Bjorn Mercer
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Podcast with Dr. Bjorn Mercer, Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts, American Public University
and Dr. Kristin Williams-Washington, PsyD, PMP
Faculty Member, Psychology, American Public University and President and CEO, W2 Consulting Corporation
The tragic death of George Floyd sparked numerous protests that gradually spread across the United States and around the world. It has also inspired some hard but necessary conversations about what can be done to improve racial relations, decrease racism and enlighten others to understand different viewpoints.
Start a degree program at American Public University.
So what can people do to educate themselves and their children to better understand what people of color feel and experience living in the United States? In this podcast, Dr. Bjorn Mercer talks to Dr. Kristin Washington about how to have tough conversations with children and what historic events should be taught in schools. Also, learn how economic disparities have contributed to inequality and what more needs to happen to address racism in the U.S.
Read the Transcript
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Welcome to the School of Arts and Humanities at American Public University System. My name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer. And today at the Everyday Scholar, we’re going to be talking to Dr. Kristin Washington, psychology faculty at American Public University System. And today, we’re talking about actionable steps to improve race relations in the U.S. Welcome, Kristen.
Dr. Kristin Washington: Thanks Bjorn. It’s nice to be here with you today.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent. And of course, what we’re talking about, extremely pertinent, very important. And so with that, we’re just going to jump into the first question. What can we do to educate ourselves and our children to better understand how people of color feel and experience living in the United States?
Dr. Kristin Washington: I think that’s a very important question and a question that basically everyone in the United States right now should be asking themselves so that we can work towards bettering our relationships with one another. And just having a general understanding with each other as well.
I think one of the hardest things to do is to have a conversation with your child. So often we believe that we’re protecting our children by shielding them from things of this nature, but there are African American families across America having very difficult conversations with their children, conversations with their sons and daughters on how to respond if they get stopped by police officers.
And I know I had to have a very difficult conversation with my oldest daughter about what happened to George Floyd and what was going on in the world. And up to that point, I hadn’t had that conversation with her. She lives this beautiful Pollyanna life. And I was very hesitant to take that from her, but I didn’t want her to one day go out into the world and be completely blindsided.
So we sat down and we had a tough conversation and much like a child would, her response was very, very black and white. It was very much like “If this is what happened, then the cop needs to go to jail.” And then came the harsh reality of true, but that’s not always the outcome that happened.
So I think in addition to just making the effort to learn more about black history, about African American history, because the story is more than just Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and slavery. I think the hardest part of that is educating our children so that we don’t continue the same process that’s been going on for years.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s wonderful. And it would be very difficult to have that conversation with your child.
I’ll share my experience. We have talked to our children, but our children are young, so seven and under. But we’ve been talking to them about it, about how there’s different people and how everybody’s the same.
And we talk about it in very childlike, I guess you can say, verbiage, but it’s one of those things that we don’t want them to grow up one day and then be utterly shocked by it. The world’s different.
Now going on a tangent. Do you feel that history or the media portrays the position of black folk in the U.S. as there was slavery, there was Martin Luther King and then we’re today.
Dr. Kristin Washington: We talk about Black History Month or African American History Month, whatever the name needs to be. It’s fantastic that that is a part of it, but we’re basically diminishing the history to one month. Whereas throughout the rest of the year, we continue to learn American history, but African American history is American history.
And so I feel like a push should be made to not relegate things to just one month for particular race. I think it needs to be spread across in order for us to gain a better understanding of one another. I think it’s important for people, everyone to learn about the Middle Passage and how slaves who were taken from Africa and other countries, a lot of them, they were thrown off the side of ships coming to America based on cargo weight and things of that nature.
And how many of them actually killed themselves and purposely jumped over. I don’t even know how many people are aware of the Middle Passage.
I don’t know how many people are aware of the juxtaposition between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois and how they were trying to advocate, both of them, but in vastly different ways about how African Americans should move forward once slavery was officially abolished. So there’s just several things that could be taught to better understand one another. And I think we’re falling short in that area.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And no, I think I completely agree. And I’m glad you brought up Du Bois. When you read the “Souls of Black Folk,” you read that and it’s still so relevant today and it’s 100+ years. What does that say about how things have and haven’t moved since he wrote that pivotal book, in 1903 or so?
Dr. Kristin Washington: Yeah, I think the notion here is that a lot of progress has happened because of Martin Luther King, Jr. But in reality, it hasn’t. I think we like to congratulate ourselves when we do things, but at this point I feel like we’re resting on our laurels and so much more could be done.
And it’s not necessarily bringing about a change. In my eyes, this is very simple. It’s the Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. It’s really not more complex in my view than that.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that is wonderful. And that’s actually a perfect segue to the second question. Bias is real and extremely complicated. Why is it important to see other races and ethnicities as people and not as a threat?
Dr. Kristin Washington: I think that one’s pretty fundamental as well. When you allow yourself to see others, as people, your defenses automatically come down, which affords the opportunity for true learning and change to begin. Otherwise when your defenses go up, you’re not hearing about where I am, what I’ve been through, who I am, what I bring to the table.
There’s no chance of an open dialogue or an actual exchange of ideas to occur. Because right off the bat, you feel threatened by me. So there’s nothing that’s going to change that.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No, that is absolutely wonderful. If you could get into the history of it, why do you think there is a fear, I’m putting that in quotes and/or a bias of black folk that white folk have, and I’m talking very generically, but historically, where does that come from?
Dr. Kristin Washington: It comes from history. It’s a taught behavior. It’s a learned behavior.
If we go back to slavery, there was a notion of… And they made it pathological, it was called drapetomania. And it’s this notion that if a slave actually tried to run away from a slave owner, there was something pathologically that was wrong with him.
And so when you’re working from that vantage point, and that keeps getting passed down from generation to generation, all you then see the individuals are as objects. And there’s nothing further than that.
And so at this point, unfortunately, I’d liken it to a lot of sports teams as well. I think that there are a lot of people who view them as objects. We can take it back to when LeBron James was told to shut up and dribble the ball. That means you are seen solely as an object.
We do not want to hear anything about your opinions. We do not care about your worth past what it is that you have been hired to do.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Right. And an easy bias. And I have to say, I haven’t kept up with the controversy since, but when — Laura Ingraham, was it? — said that to LeBron, obviously there was an outcry: “What are you saying?” And then, but when she said to Drew Brees, “Well, he can have his own opinion.” Obviously, there’s a bias there.
Dr. Kristin Washington: Absolutely.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: You’re saying that a black man can’t have an opinion and he should just, well shut up and do his job. But a similar sports person, well, he can have an opinion; I don’t see color though.
Dr. Kristin Washington: Precisely. And I think that’s where the issue lies. So the thoughts and the views and the opinions in that instance of Drew Brees, who is a white man, are seen as valuable. And the exact same for LeBron James, who is by far the best basketball player in the league — his views, opinions, thoughts don’t matter at all.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah. And LeBron has been extremely active and extremely vocal about advocating for improving everything. And again, it’s hard to know what Laura Ingraham thinks or feels besides the fact that she’s on television every day. And here’s a question: How does it help when there’s pundits on television speaking every day and then they say stuff like that that can only hurt any pathway moving forward or reconciliation?
Dr. Kristin Washington: I think it does pose an issue, but I’ll go on the opposite side of that as well and say that it poses an issue when one person who is a celebrity is touted as the voice for black people in general. I think either way it diminishes the actual voice of the population.
So, no, we’re not going to believe that Laura Ingraham is the one who speaks for all white people. Just like people should not believe that LeBron James speaks for all black people. We all have our brains. We all think differently.
And I think it’s just because they’re in the public eye that they get put into these situations. And maybe there are situations that they would rather not be in, but it is what it is.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No, and that’s a wonderful comment because I’m pretty sure very few people would want to say, “I want to speak for X, Y, or Z.”
Dr. Kristin Washington: Exactly.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Unless they’re a narcissist. And then there’s a whole different problem there. But yeah, just like you said, every person is different.
Even if you have — and especially with political figures — my general view is I don’t trust political figures. They will say whatever they want to ensure that they get your support.
Now, with that said, I think with everyone, you have to listen to what they say and listen to what they say consistently. And so are there any politicians that consistently support, like supporting the black community and moving forward together or have they all failed us?
Dr. Kristin Washington: I think that there are many, and I’m not going to go into naming specific names. But I think there are many who have really good intentions, but I think the way that our political system is set up is that there’s a general lack of follow-through on a lot of things that may be things that get people elected.
And I don’t necessarily believe that it’s their intention that “I’m going to say this thing so I can get these votes. And then afterwards, after I have the votes, that’s it. I no longer care about those issues.”
But I think that the way that our political system is set up is that it’s almost harder to follow through than it should be. So I don’t necessarily fault people for not being able to fully follow through, because if we were in a situation where one person can say, “Okay, I’m going to do this.”
And there’s no checks and balances, and then they don’t do it. Okay. Now it’s 100% your fault. But when we have to work across the aisle, which I obviously advocate for, but it does pose a bigger issue when people are starkly opposed on certain issues.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No, for sure. And so what’s your perspective on why certain political entities would not want to see that there are racial issues anymore? “Well, we’re so far from slavery. Martin Luther King was two generations ago; we’re good. We just all need to work harder.”
Dr. Kristin Washington: I think that’s generally just because it’s hard. And it’s easier to say that we’ve arrived. We don’t need to worry about that as opposed to digging in and saying, “There’s a lot of work to be done here.”
Because then you have to worry about isolating certain constituents, isolating certain people who endorse you, certain people who back you financially. I think there are many reasons why they shy away from drawing that line in the sand and saying, “Hey, we need to do this here.”
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No, that’s true. Because to help say an entire community in which no one community is a monolith, of course, but when you look at certain stats and I’ll of course get these stats incorrect. But on average, the average, I believe [a] black male makes about $40,000 a year. And then the average say, white male, I think makes about $60,000 to $65,000 a year.
Dr. Kristin Washington: Yeah.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s of course, throughout the entire U.S. but yeah, two-thirds of the income. That kind of economic disparity will of course create huge inequities. And that’s today, that’s not even talking about what it was like 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago.
Dr. Kristin Washington: There are so many areas where disparities exist and that’s just another one. And I think that companies in general would have to take a good, hard look in the mirror about whether or not or how they would go about righting that wrong. And I think there are some companies that create pay bands and do what they need to do in order to justify why the disparities that exist truly exist.
But we could look at the fact that white men still make a certain amount and I won’t throw out specific dollar figures, but then African American women, who are now one of the most highly educated subsets of America, still are falling short. And they’re not making as much money as their counterparts.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. I brought up the stats here. And so for 2017, 2018 from the U.S. government the average white household income, sorry, is around $70,000. So the average black household again was $40,000.
And so it’s not quite half, but that is a huge, huge difference. Of course, that creates such differences and just purchasing power and not to be too capitalist, but when you have more money, you have more power.
Dr. Kristin Washington: And more opportunities. Absolutely.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And more opportunity and influence. And I wish I had this stat, but when you look at the total number of people who have served in the U.S. Congress, both House and Senate, the percentage of white versus people of color is laughable since the late 1700s till today.
Dr. Kristin Washington: Absolutely. It can go from something so simple as the how. So many African Americans who may want to run for an office have no idea how to even begin to do so.
And luckily, there are a bunch of organizations now who are working to level that playing field by showing them how to run for office, what to do, et cetera, et cetera. But again, if they don’t have access to those opportunities or the legacy to show them how it’s done, then they just can’t move forward.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No, that’s true. And that’s a perfect segue to the next question is why is it important when talking to a person of color, to not explain things to them?
Dr. Kristin Washington: So in the general sense, it denies the interpretation of one’s own personal experience. So what I tend to do, if someone tries to explain something to me, I will automatically stop talking. And it is truly passive-aggressive, and I’m fully aware of this.
But what I refuse to do is argue with you about my experience. I’ve lived it. I walk in my shoes every single day. So either you can accept what I’m saying as a fact of my life, or you can choose to argue about it and try to tell me about the reality of my life through your eyes, which I hope it is taken as ridiculous as I said it.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Now, do you find that this is similar to — and I hate using the term — but “mansplaining?” Where, say, you have a guy who have used the world from his perspective of being a male in a culture and the privileges and the “power” that come with that and that, “Let me just explain it to you.”
Dr. Kristin Washington: I absolutely think it’s the exact same thing. So if that’s how women could better understand how minorities feel when someone tries to explain their experience and their existence to them, then I love it.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Well, and this brings us to a side question, which I think is important because I’ve found that a lot of white folk have a hard time understanding the lived experience of people of color. And so what’s a way of trying to help them understand that what they’ve experienced their entire life is actually very different than what other people experience?
Dr. Kristin Washington: Yeah. And this goes back to education and what we learn about American history. The reason they don’t understand it is because it was never taught to them. They can understand that slavery occurred because it was taught to them.
So what wasn’t taught was: How did this make the slaves feel? How did this cripple the African American family? How did this cripple their chances of advancement? What did this do to this entire race of individuals?
And so I feel like if we took the time out to actually have deeper discussions about history, then we wouldn’t have a situation where people can’t understand the lived experience of others.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s a great comment because when I think of history — we all learn history differently because of where we grew up. I grew up in Texas.
But I remember growing up — and this is just an example — of learning about Woodrow Wilson. And when I grew up I was like, “He was a great president; he got us through World War I. He helped create the League of Nations.”
In my mind, I was like, “He was one of the good presidents.” And then you realize that, well, he was a historian who pushed the Lost Cause Myth. And he also made his administration fully segregated. And he also viewed Birth of the Nation when it came out.
And when you see all those certain things, you’re like, “Oh, ah.” And then you’re like, ”What was he doing?” But if you have someone who did his academic study in the Lost Cause, and that’s what he pushed, that was his “reality,” not saying it’s right. So it’s challenging because then you look back at history, and you realize that certain people and historical figures are more complicated and then a lot uglier than we were taught.
Dr. Kristin Washington: Yeah. I think it’s a really good point. Because I think for example, same notion, Malcolm X was seen as basically a horrible figure. But what’s not told is the other side of Malcolm X: the why he felt the way that he felt, the experiences that he had, why he did his journey to Mecca and why he, in the beginning, chose not to have allies of other races assist him.
I feel like a lot of history is told from one perspective, and there is obviously a benefit to telling it from whichever perspective one takes. So the benefit to painting Malcolm X as a bad guy is okay; Black people don’t do what he did. He was an advocate for violence.
So don’t be violent. If something happens to you, turn the other cheek situation. But then the flip side is we tell other historians’ perspectives in a positive light so that we could want to follow their ways.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: You know, and that’s perfect. It makes me think of an interview that Malcolm X had with Kenneth Clark, and Kenneth Clark also interviewed Martin Luther King and James Baldwin. And each of those interviews were so gripping, so amazing that when you watch those, you get a snapshot of what each of these men were going through and what their perspectives were in the early ‘60s.
And then of course, to think that Malcolm X was killed, was murdered when he’s only 39, is amazing to think of what he did, what he tried to do. And also his journey going from wanting to — I don’t know if this is the right term — but not work with the white community. And then changing his perspective and saying, “Well, we have to work with the community.” Is that a good assessment?
Dr. Kristin Washington: No, and it is. And I think it comes back to the notion of he put all his faith in one person when he was a Muslim. And then he found out that that person was flawed and that hurts. And I think it hit him hard, and it made him reevaluate how he was doing things in the messages that he was previously told to put out.
And once you’re the person who you have and you hold most high ruins that ideal image, it definitely makes you look within yourself. And I think once he did that searching, he realized that this is much bigger than he was actually looking at it.
That if real change was going to come about, we were going to have to figure out a way to work together. And so I feel like after that happened, that’s when he started opening up more so in trying to allow allies to come in and to help out and make an additional change.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: So voting is a cornerstone of the democratic process. Why is voting an important component to improve race relations?
Dr. Kristin Washington: Race relations will improve when there is a better representation. Although our ancestors fought so hard for their right to vote, I think the current generation has grown almost apathetic to the notion of voting because previous generations have gotten out and they’ve gone out and they have voted.
And I don’t think they were able to see the change that they wanted to see. And so there’s an entire generation who believes that their vote doesn’t matter, because it’s not going to change anything. So the hope there is that if there are more people that look like them that had the same or similar experiences to them, the hope is that that is when change will come about.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s excellent. It makes me think of, of course, what we have are Democrats and Republicans in this country. And I feel that both parties have done a terrible job of having outreach.
The Democrats just assume, say, Black folk will vote for them. And so what have they done to truly, say, advocate for I’m helping out the Black community? And at the same time the Republicans, it seems like have said, “Look, things are better, look money.” And then “See, why don’t you be a Republican?”
And not even to get into Trump and what’s going on with this presidency. But what could both parties do to actually help advocate and do the hard work of helping, say, the Black community and say other minority communities?
Dr. Kristin Washington: I would say, go to those communities. Let those people see your face, touch your hand and know that you actually do care. For the Democratic party, I think they rest on their laurels of Obama. And they’re like, “I worked with Obama. I did this.”
Even campaign ads that I’ve seen for local politicians saying very similar things. “I worked with Obama on the campaign for this or that.” And that’s fantastic, but what are you doing now? How are you letting me know that you care now, aside from touting Obama’s name? Yes, he was a black man. Fantastic. What else?
And then the Republican party is doing exactly what you said. And to the point of going a step further and saying things like, “Well, how have things changed for you with the Democratic party? Why don’t you give us a shot?”
And that’s an interesting ploy personally. I don’t think it’s going to work, but it’s interesting because in reality, I don’t feel like the needs are being met from the Democratic party either.
There’s so much more that can be done and it starts with outreach. It starts with, let’s go into Chicago, let’s go into the Watts, let’s go into these places where these people who are feeling rejected and dejected and discriminated against and things of that nature. And actually listen to their lived experiences and figure out how to change things.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that was excellent. And it makes me think of people’s response to police shootings.
And obviously what’s happened since George Floyd was killed and how this one of many experiences has actually changed and moved the narrative forward.
And in 2008, when Obama was elected and on Fox News, they said, “Hey, there’s no more racism. Isn’t that great?” And it’s like, “Well, yes, we elected Obama, which is wonderful, but we have to do so much else.”
And so do you think politicians can only focus on one thing at a time? And I’ll say the same thing about media, like cable news. They seem to only be able to focus at one thing at a time, to a detriment of us all.
Dr. Kristin Washington: Yeah. I really think that goes back to what we were speaking about earlier that when they create their platform, they usually list at least one thing that will basically pull everyone in. So I’m going to focus on HBCUs, the environment, abortion, gay rights, they pick those things. But we have to know that it’s almost impossible to move the needle on each of the things listed in anyone’s platform.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No. And each individual is going to be different just because say I’m white and I grew up in this country white doesn’t mean that I’m going to be conservative. I’m going to be this. I’m going to be that, I’m going to be this, all these stereotypes. Everybody’s different and so I could see as for politicians, it’s extremely difficult.
But then with the narrative on cable news, they seem to just reduce everything to just talking points. Is there a way besides getting rid of cable news to help cable news? Because unfortunately it is, even though people don’t watch as much television, it’s still extremely popular and important.
Dr. Kristin Washington: It is. And I think what the problem there is, and I’ve had this conversation with my husband, we call it the “dumbing down” of America. I feel like they have dumbed things down to the point of almost being irrelevant.
But they think that that’s how the general individual consumes information. It has to be this two-second blurb on this topic that’s controversial enough to keep them in, to make them want to hear it and watch it while not really providing anything educational or any real facts.
And I think that’s where we are in America right now. It’s all sensationalizing, it’s all emotion-driven, regardless whether it’s factual or helpful. I don’t think that those pieces of it really play a part anymore.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Right. And it reminds me of a conversation I had with someone. He’s a little older. And we were talking about defunding the police and he was talking about, “Well, that’s crazy. You’re going to get rid of the police?” And I was like, “No, that’s, that’s not the idea.” The police are called to everything.
So do you really need a police who is most likely had militarized training to go to every single call? Which might just need de-escalation or mental health issues? And do these police really need in their holster a 45?
Do they need an AR in the car where when that police drives up, people will view that as extremely threatening? And this is where the perspectives of, I think, generally white and black differ. Is it too much for me to say that a black person will view that as 100% threatening and a white person will be like, “Hey, it’s the police.”
Dr. Kristin Washington: Definitely polar opposites on how we’ve used. Something like that. I think in general, white people view the police as, “Okay, great; help has come.”
And African American people will view that as, “My God, the police are here. So it’s time to freak out. Someone’s going to die.” It’s a completely different take.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. And there needs to be serious police reform, because the police are required to do too much. So if you’re a police [officers] with a gun, your job should be to try to help out more escalated or unfortunately, violent situations. It shouldn’t be called to every situation.
Dr. Kristin Washington: I agree. Here’s where you’ll hear the psychologist come out a bit. So 911 at this point is a catch-all for absolutely every situation.
In the mental health community, we’re trying to push the notion of 988, which is more of a mental health distress call. I don’t think it makes any sense whatsoever, regardless of the training that police officers have, for them to respond to a mental health situation. I think about anyone in mental distress and seeing a police officer with a weapon come up to them and how that will only exacerbate the symptoms they’re currently experiencing.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Well. And just having police come up to you, who you know is armed. And in essence… And I don’t know if this is going to come off right. The police have the authority to delve out, I going to call it “justice,” which that justice might be killing someone. And that justice could be just murder.
Dr. Kristin Washington: Yeah. You said “justice”. And while you were looking for the word justice, my word was punishment that immediately came to my head.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. And one of the wonderful things about cell phones and social media today is that we’re able to record all the injustices that have occurred over the last few years.
When for the last decades, as long as history has occurred, if somebody was killed by the police, the police could write a report. They resisted arrest. We shot them. Whatever the reports are. And then the people will be like, “Okay.” And people just took it.
Dr. Kristin Washington: That was my point. It was accepted because that was their lived truth. Whether it was the actual truth or not. That’s what the statement showed.
We’re supposed to trust the police, because they’re supposed to dole out justice and they’re supposed to protect and serve. And so it became fact, and up until recently, as you were saying, now we have cell phone video footage to show that there’s a lot that’s going on that is absolutely opposite of what’s going into these reports.
And we can take it back to the white man who the police officer pushed. And they said he tripped and fell up until the video came out.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yes, the older man who was like 75. And to me, that brings up a huge police training issue. Militarization of the police. And it’s why do you want to militarize the police in a country that I’ll say for the large part is very safe compared to historical norms. So you’re making the police scared of the average person.
And it’s not that there aren’t…There are bad people. Of course there are, there are criminals, et cetera. But you also don’t need to have this antagonistic experience all the time. And if you have that, obviously negative side effects are going to always occur.
And one of the beauties of social media, and most of the times I will describe social media as terrible from an interpersonal perspective, is that you do, you see injustices that have occurred in each state, in each city, in each community, where it seems like they’re going on all the time, because they actually are.
Dr. Kristin Washington: Exactly. But now, we’re able to see them. It’s not that the situation is getting worse and my goodness, the world is a terrible place. No, the world has been like this; you’re just seeing it for the first time.
And I think as much as I have issues with social media as well, you had asked the previous question. And I can’t remember exactly how you worded it, but this is how the world is starting to understand the Black experience. Whereas before they could say, “I don’t understand.” But now you have no reason to say you don’t understand, because you yourself are seeing it and living with us.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. And this leads me to the final question. What do you mean by “If you see something, say something”?
Dr. Kristin Washington: So basically that’s one of the quotes that our metro systems set up when we were having the notion of the increased risk of terror and people leaving bombs or whatever on our metro system, they would say, “If you see something, say something.” And it’s the same notion here and I brought it in because we’re in a time where it seems like the voices of black people are discredited in silence, while voices of white people are accepted and heard.
Therefore, if you are seeing something negative that is happening to us, please speak up for us. Because again, as I said, oftentimes we are silenced. And since you have the privilege of not being silenced, it is helpful for you to back us up and say, “No, that’s not how that happened. That’s not what happened. This is what happened.” And validate what it is that we’re saying, because often we’re not even heard.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s absolutely excellent. In your response you said privilege. And it made me think of white privilege. And the way I describe people, the concept of white privilege, because I think some people will be very defensive. They’ll be like, “I haven’t had any privilege. I’ve worked hard my entire life.” And I’m like, “You have.”
But I describe my own experience me growing up or even today, I could walk into any store wearing whatever I’m wearing. And I literally won’t be noticed. And that is an advantage and a privilege because then I can navigate through the world anonymously. I can do what I want. I can make my own future. And for the Black community and especially Black men, they might get noticed for the wrong reasons, what we were talking about before in that they might be viewed as a threat.
And so the cops might stop them. And it reminds me of a great interview with Eddie Glaude Jr. Famous professor at Princeton, where he got a call from his son who was going to an Ivy league school and just doing a research project. He was at a park doing some observations and the cops came and stopped, and they approached him with their hands on their guns.
First of all, why did you just stop? And why is your hand in the gun? So here’s somebody who has reached one of the epitomes of academic success and extremely successful. So that’s something we hope to happen — your kids going to an Ivy league school — but yet you still have to worry, “Is my kid going to get shot?” Well, thank you for the absolutely wonderful conversation. Any final thoughts?
Dr. Kristin Washington: I’m just hoping. I think that there’s a lot of notion of pessimism among the African American community right now. But what I will say is that that pessimism, it’s long-standing, but there is a faith that lives within the African American community that won’t allow us to stop fighting for what we believe to be true and just. So we will keep fighting.
Yes, all of this is taking an emotional hit on our spiritual and mental health at this point. I am hoping again, as a psychologist, that we take social media breaks, that we do some decompressing, some meditation. Just being mindful about the safety we have within our homes and things of that nature, so that we do not basically succumb to mental health issues based off of the fact of the trauma that we are seeing and the trauma that we are seeing as it seems that every day there is a new injustice. So I just want everyone to be mindful of their mental health and take the time that they need.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And thank you so much. And today here at the Everyday Scholar, we were talking to Dr. Kristin Washington, we were talking about actionable steps to improve race relations in the United States. And my name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer. And thank you very much.
About the Speakers
Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.
Dr. Kristin Williams-Washington is an adjunct professor at American Public University, where she teaches courses on the psychology of disasters, psychology of terrorism, psychology of combat, and deployment psychology. She has a B.A. in experimental psychology, a B.S. in criminology and criminal justice, and a master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology. She is also a certified Project Management Professional.
Dr. Williams-Washington’s experience in psychological health and traumatic brain injury was acquired within multiple military treatment facilities as an active-duty psychologist in the U.S. Army. She has received the Army Commendation Medal for her contributions.
Dr. Kristin Williams-Washington is the President and CEO of W2 Consulting Corporation which is a management consulting firm focused on delivering program and project management, research and evaluation, and strategic communications and branding services. Her subject matter expertise includes behavioral health, military and veterans’ issues, health and healthcare disparities, cultural competence, evaluation, and public policy.