Seeds of honesty in a US reckoning on race

Whether on Zoom calls or in community picnics, more Americans are reflecting on the truth about race relations. Is this finally a moment for a national introspection?

A youth group aligned with Black Lives Matter holds a public picnic in Rockford, Illinois, June 19 for the Juneteenth holiday.

Over the past half-century, more than 40 countries have convened truth commissions to move their societies forward. Most have followed dark chapters of mass violence or harsh governance. Others were established to address unacknowledged abuses targeting a minority or indigenous group. Is the United States now at a similar point of introspection in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd?

Certainly many more white Americans are searching for ways to change themselves and their society on race issues. Most Black Americans, even if cautiously hopeful that this time will be different, are exhausted by the frequent reality of racism and the struggle for progress. The nation, as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee so poignantly said in a recent Washington Post video interview, “needs to weep.”

It may still be too soon to say the U.S. has reached a true inflection point in its treatment of its citizens of African descent. But it has certainly reached a reflection point.

The gap between white and Black perceptions about race is narrowing, according to YouGov polls. Book sales for titles on race have reached new highs. Corporations and media are reevaluating their diversity policies. Recent protest marches are conspicuously more diverse.

Perhaps the most lasting change will be local. Small communities have begun rolling dialogues about race. The residents of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, for example, a town that is 83% white, have begun an open Zoom series on race called “Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable.” In Dallas, about 200 people gathered in a park in mid-June for a “potluck protest.” It used a picnic of food and music to create “a safe space for people to ask questions,” as one organizer put it.

The reforms sought by the Black Lives Matter movement and similar groups are not new to the U.S. In 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson established the Kerner Commission to identify the socioeconomic drivers of recent riots in many cities. The commission blamed racism; bias against Black people in policing, criminal justice, and credit practices; voter suppression; poor housing; and disproportionately high unemployment in Black communities. Three decades later, President Bill Clinton’s initiative on racism targeted those same problems. They are still central issues now.

Societies seeking mass justice, reform, and reconciliation often first rely on exposing the truth about the past. In the U.S., that would mean finding a consensus narrative about the history of race relations – in particular the Black experience – derived from personal testimony and documentary evidence. Based on attempts by other countries that relied on truth commissions, the U.S. would need to find a balance between disclosure of past wrongs and justice for those wrongs.

That goal was elusive in many countries. Yet the restorative power of being heard is undeniable. For the U.S., the stories of ordinary Black families can help white people understand how the historic benefits of being white have often hindered progress for Blacks. They may bring an awakening that shapes current debates over the removal of symbols, such as Confederate statues, or that leads to lasting reform, such as better race-sensitive police practices. 

The cleansing power of truth-telling is in its ability to allow people to move beyond victimhood and powerlessness. Taking common stock of the most painful thread of U.S. history opens the way toward what former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu called “a beautiful manifestation of what is possible”: an enriched humanity in which individuals may realize their potential unconstrained by actions or adverse conditions imposed on them. No matter how the truth about race is commissioned into service, it is the power behind social healing.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Seeds of honesty in a US reckoning on race
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today