By Dan Hall
Kneeling, Race, and Conversation
I have friends on several sides of the “kneeling-during-the-national-anthem” debate that hijacked our national conversation this past fall. I have friends who recoil at any appearance of disrespect for our country or any of her symbols; I have friends who struggle with singing “land of the free” when that does not describe their experience; I have friends who equate our military itself, our service personnel, and our flag (think about that equation); I have friends who feel passionately that the most American thing we can do is to express our disagreements even to the extent of another’s discomfort.
I struggle because I can understand and empathize with each of them. As I hear their perspectives, they make me think. I also struggle because, once again, the debate seems to fall along racial lines.
But I struggle most with our seeming inability to discuss it without labels, accusations, and judgment of motives.
When I arrived in Mississippi in 1986, I was fortunate to be immediately immersed into the challenge of racial reconciliation. I learned we would never see progress until we had authentic conversations. And sometimes those conversations were extremely hard.
I remember riding with my friend Neddie Winters, Executive Director of Mission Mississippi. We were headed to Natchez to lead a racial dialogue with city leaders when one of us threatened (who will remain unnamed) to pull over and let the other one out of the car. We were in one of those hard conversations. Just like I did with my other friends Joe Elliott, Melvin Anderson, Ronnie Crudup, Thomas Jenkins, Dolphus Weary, Patrick Scott, Don Lavell, and many others (my guess is that it is necessary to note that each of these men is black).
Every one of those conversations required an honest desire to understand each other. That desire has fueled so many significant relationships in my life. It has also been the key I’ve used to help others reconcile broken relationships, to help churches recover from or prevent splits, to help organizations overcome organizational strife.
I agree with many who argue that great strides have been made in racial reconciliation; I would also agree that there is more ground that needs to be taken. These are not exclusive, nor should they be treated as such. But we will need an honest desire to understand each other if we want to reconcile these positions and honor the gains we’ve made by pressing into the next level of gains we need.
My journey in racial reconciliation has been filled with joy, frustration, angst, victories, friendships, personal growth, and discouragement. I would lie if I said that there were not moments that I thought, “What’s the use?”
But then I look at my children and grandchildren and see their multiracial and multicultural circle of friends and I think, “Yeah, it was worth it.”
Dan Hall is an executive and strategic coach to leaders and executive teams. He also works with organizations on Teambuilding, Conflict Resolution and Communication Skills. He and his wife Hazel have six children and four grandchildren. You can reach him at Dan@OnCourseSolutions.com.