Racial tension is popping up in unexpected places. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Maybe we can reduce the awkwardness, and the tension. What can we do?

I was thinking about this because I noticed something the other day. When I fill out a form that seeks demographic information, there is something missing. There are blanks for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and — white.

When this happens, the message is that white people are normal, and everyone else is abnormal. It makes “white” normative, and it makes everyone else “other.” It also removes all history from “white” people, and we assume that everyone else should remove their history too. That creates a built-in environment of both privilege and prejudice.

I’m Norwegian-American. My people came over in the 1880s. There’s a lot of us around here, because this was the land that had not yet been “settled.” “Settled” meant it had not yet been completely taken, stolen, from the Native Americans; in Minnesota the Ojibwe, Hochunk and Dakota.

But by calling ourselves “white,” it erases the history of that land-grab by us Europeans.

“White” actually means “We are from Europe. We come from somewhere else, and we don’t want to go back where we came from.” But we try to lose that connection. Our families were told to blend in, assimilate, stop speaking Norwegian, start being Americans.

So it’s no surprise that a lot of European Americans expect non-white people to blend in too, to “assimilate,” to become “Americans” by imitating, and becoming, white people.

Why have a Black History Month? Everyone is supposed to learn about George Washington, not Malcolm X. Even then, we are not supposed to learn about how Thomas Jefferson fathered five children of color with his slave Sally Hemings, the black part of white history.

We think it’s not part of white history, that Malcolm X preached reconciliation between the races, preached against the idea that all white people are devils, and was approaching Dr. King to work together before he was murdered.

James Baldwin, the famous black novelist and thinker, once said “We should have white history week, so we can see these pieces.” Quote: “One of the things that most afflicts this country is that white people don’t know who they are, or where they come from. That’s why you think I’m a problem. But, I am not a problem, your history is. And as long as you pretend you don’t know your history, you’re going to be the prisoner of it.”

This brings us to something I have heard lately that I do not understand. “We don’t have to be politically correct anymore!” it is said. I don’t get it. What is “being politically correct”?

In my world it is called “being polite.”

If the n-word is used by a crowd of white boys surrounding an 8-year-old black kid, and they punch him and tell him he doesn’t belong, that is a hate crime. That’s because the threat of violence is traumatic. What if some kids threatened your kid at school? You would never feel safe sending them out the door again.

Jamila Anderson, a nationwide diversity trainer and teacher, will present an excellent and useful presentation, “Empathy and Equity.” It provides valuable tools for those who want to de-escalate the tension in any conversation — like in the Chaska school district.

The evening also includes a short presentation by Grecia Lozano, the drop-in manager and outreach coordinator for Launch Ministries of Chaska. She will give an introduction to the ways in which empathy and equity can work in the setting of Chaska’s young persons, who need to be launched.

This is part of the Tuesday Dialogue Series. Free and open to the public, there will be light refreshments. Co-sponsored by Residents Organized Against Racism (ROAR) and AM 950. Find us on Facebook, or at chaskachurch.org.

“Empathy & Equity” will be at Shepherd of the Hill Church, 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 30, 145 Engler Blvd., Chaska.

More info at chaskachurch.org or 952-448-3882.

The Rev. Dean J. Seal is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church.

Community Editor

Mark Olson, the Chaska and Chanhassen community editor who has worked in Carver County for 20 years, makes any excuse to write about local history. In his spare time, Mark enjoys perusing old books, watching blockbusters and taking Midwest road trips.

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