America is divided and nothing keeps us apart quite like race. It’s going to stay that way as long as people keep preaching to the choir and profiting off of the division. We are in desperate need of individuals who genuinely care about unity instead of those who simply talk about unity or want to settle old scores.
Thankfully, those people exist. Bill Renje is one of them and his latest book, Civility in the Center: The Art of Empathy in a Divided Culture is a great roadmap for tearing down our racial divide.
Renje avoids demonizing any particular group but he’s also not shy about exposing problems when needed. This works for Renje because he’s not shy about explaining his own past struggles in regards to race. He tells very blunt stories from his childhood and teen years. Not everyone will relate to these stories but everyone has a story and that story goes a long way in shaping how they think, feel, and act in regards to race.
Renje tells of otherwise moral family members who never used curse words but did not hesitate to use racial slurs and how that impacted his views on race. He is candid about his own struggles with addiction as a teenager and how that struggle led to him being shot and left paralyzed. And he tells stories of how his own dealings with student athletes from a different background than him helped him to rethink his views on race.
Unlike a lot of books that seek to address complex topics, Civility in the Center isn’t a rambling rant about how bad things are that leaves us with no realistic solutions. As Renje sees it, the best approach to racial unity doesn’t come from a political party or further entrenching ourselves in our racial identity. Rather, it’s found in one simple word.
“All of us need to step back, look around and understand… why people different from us feel the way they feel.”
You can do this without abandoning the truth. And you can do it without having to agree with those on the other side of the proverbial aisle. You don’t have to lose your soul in order to stop and take the time to consider other people and their stories. However, if you fail to do this, you just might lose your soul.
Renje offers several practical solutions, most of which involve talking to different people face to face and recognizing injustice when it’s done to others and speaking up as if it was done to us. This requires logging off of social media and stepping outside of our comfort zone. Regardless of how talking heads and politicians would have us think, there is no monolithic black view on pretty much anything, just as not all whites think the same about a given issue. Twitter will never tell you that. You have to walk outside toward your neighbor’s house in order to learn that lesson. And if your neighbor decides to leave his house and come toward yours for a good conversation, you just might find some civility in the center.