“Can We All Just Get Along?” — Rodney King

a684b0359f54d73307ffb3488c1363a369 percent of Americans say that race relations are bad and getting worse according to a New York Times/CBS News poll taken immediately after the killing of five Dallas police officers.   The headline read, we “Hold a Grim View of Race Relations.”

As reported this is the highest level of discord since the 1992 Los Angeles riots following the acquittal of the officers who beat Rodney King. Later King pled for peace with his famous question, ‘Can We All Just Get Along?’

Poor race relations are one of the dominant big-picture issues of the day.   At work, in stores, at school, in public places, even in churches there is a growing uneasiness.   Across the racial divide we eye one another and wonder.

One of my black friends told me he is hearing things that he thought were long buried, things he thought he would never hear again in America. Deteriorating race relations encourage some people to voice their hostility, even to act out on their otherwise unspoken prejudices.

Following the poll I talked about it with several of my friends both black and white.   I even had a conversation with my 14 year-old grandson Luke – who told me how he came to the defense of one his black friends when he was called the “N” word. He added that his black friend defended him when someone called him a ‘cracker.’ He said, “I can’t stand racists.” Good for you Luke, stand up for what you believe!

I suspect that as I have found in my own limited inquiry, race relations between those who have nurtured friendships over the years are not suddenly threatened by public hostility.   The problem is that too few have nurtured such relationships.

Rodney King knew that rioting wasn’t the answer.   Getting along was. In asking the question he hoped the public outcry against his mistreatment would lead to better, not worse, race relations.

Mark Twain said, “When you need a friend it’s too late to make one.” Building interracial friendships is not a quick fix. It will take much more to reverse centuries of entrenched prejudice and injustice, yet without it race relations are unlikely to improve.

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4 Responses to “Can We All Just Get Along?” — Rodney King

  1. Russ Long says:

    Tom, whenever you speak on this issue I listen because I know that you have been in the trenches. I am grateful for people like Robert Benjamin, Oliver Phillips, Sam Vassel and other colleagues who have allowed me to have some crucial conversations on the issue of race relations. Thanks for always offering a “word of reason.”

  2. Oliver says:

    Tom, the question remains, “How do we learn to get along with each other?” In my work with cultural intelligence I have discovered two basic areas for improvement. One, is the “unconscious bias” that we hold about people who are not like us — exposing ways we unwittingly favor certain types of people based upon our upbringing, experiences, and values. The other is the resistance to stereotyping. No people group has a single story line, for life is too multilayered to take such an approach. We can only minimize racial hatred and distrust by maximizing our knowledge of the values that are held dearly by people who are different than we are. Thanks for raising the issue!

  3. Tom, thanks for this excellent reflection. I have deeply appreciated the relationships I’ve been able to develop with persons like Oliver Phillips, Albert Hung, Sam Vassel, and others. I’ve learned much from each and have appreciated the gifts they all bring to the Church of the Nazarene. Too add to your article, I like what Cheryl Sanders says about reconciliation in last issue of “Grace and Peace Magazine”: “A commitment to reconciliation includes willingness to tell the truth about justice and inequality and a willingness to face the truth about what we must do to correct what has happened. You can’t undo the things of the past, but we have to move toward God’s future, God’s one-item agenda of reconciliation. Social holiness takes us on a path where we bring others into the mix, and multicultural ministry is an important component of that.” Read here: http://graceandpeacemagazine.org/articles/170-issue-12-winter-2016/450-multicultural-ministry-holiness-reconciliation-an-interview-with-cheryl-j-sanders

  4. James Woody says:

    This is straightforward and to the point. I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Fareed Zakaria’s show on CNN Monday morning and he interviewed Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy … I don’t know if you’re familiar with his work, but I think he makes a valid point when he argues that we need to confront the truth about racism in America in a more direct way, i.e. like the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in post-apartheid South Africa or in Rwanda after the genocides there. He believes, as do I, that until the truths of America’s past are acknowledged and talked about openly, the wounds will not fully heal and the cycle will continue. As long as we pretend that racism no longer exists or that it wasn’t the foundation upon which much of prosperity and wealth in America were built, we’ll continue to be “surprised” when it rears its ugly head in practical ways.

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