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Looking for Solutions To Racial Tension in America

Racial Healing: Confronting the fear Between Blacks & Whites

By Harlon L. Dalton

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246 pp., $22.50

Harlon Dalton knows that the issue of race in America is a two-sided condition, or more accurately, a basically antisocial condition with a top and a bottom. To him it is not an oversimplification to say that whites rule the top socially and economically, thus leaving most blacks at the bottom.

Dalton, a black professor at Yale Law School, explores this black/white condition not from a detailed historical perspective, but from the welcome angle of how America can heal the mess.

His short book, "Racial Healing," reads almost like a confessional, but it is a careful, utterly candid, and engrossing analysis of how, even with the best intentions, whites don't get it yet.

Race always has mattered greatly in America, Dalton says, and the sooner we can muster the courage to face the debilitating issues surrounding it and work through the awkwardness of discussing the issues, the sooner healing can occur. "The biggest changes will be in how we think," Dalton says of both blacks and whites.

Dalton contends that whites have a not-so-surprising "race obliviousness," a "natural consequence of being in the driver's seat." Whites in America have "white skin privilege" as a birthright, a set of advantages that is virtually automatic.

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Thus, most whites are perplexed when blacks dwell on their racial identity (and their ethnicity) with an intensity not found in white society. The recent Million Man March in Washington, D.C. is a good example. Most blacks saw this gathering as an extraordinary show of black solidarity and support, even though many there were not supporters of rally organizer Louis Farrakhan.

"Many (but by no means all) Blacks have a sense of group consciousness that influences the choices they make as individuals," Dalton says.

First on the list of course corrections Dalton suggests for whites is an individual realization that white advantages exist. If the negative consequences of the advantages continue to go unexamined, he says, don't look for blacks to be too understanding.

Whites can't disown the race problem by saying that blacks simply need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Horatio Alger sentiments, or rugged-individual shibboleths don't work for Dalton. He says they assume "a false world in which black people are both the problem and the solution."

Of blacks he says, "I don't hold the Black community blameless. We should have taken better care of ourselves and our own. But there is an equally important truth that must be told: we did not slide into the abyss all by ourselves. And painful as it is to admit, we can't climb out of it without help."

The book is sprinkled with examples of people, black and white, coming to new realizations about race and power. Dalton also suggests the impossible: eliminating the word "racism" from our vocabulary because, he says, it is too explosive and doesn't fit most of the white establishment that inadvertently preserves the status quo.

Dalton's discussion about his marriage to a white woman could have been awkward and defensive or overly intellectualized. He knows how both races usually view such a marriage. But after explaining that he married for love, he says frankly, "My marriage may partially explain why I am so drawn to the idea of racial healing."

It is Dalton's humanity and his refreshing candor about black attitudes that make the book nonthreatening, intriguing, and hopeful. To anyone deeply concerned about black-white relations in America, and who wants insights to test, Dalton deserves a high-five - and a thorough read.

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