Three for every one: Answers to the Charleston Church Massacre : The Harvesting Diversity Blog

Three for every one: Answers to the Charleston Church Massacre

by Patty Bates-Ballard on 07/07/15

The Charleston church massacre must be a turning point for America. The shooter has written that he was radicalized by what he read on the internet in reaction to the Trayvon Martin shooting. Yet this young man had family. He had a church. He had friends. Some of his friends now say that he told racist jokes and talked about starting a race war. The friends didn't seem to know how to respond.

We don't know who in our midst may right now be learning racism. We know there are many who actively teach racist ideologies, while others actively fight racism. But most White Americans float somewhere in between, at the mercy of the predominant messages of American society. As the Charleston shooter's life story  illustrates, it was not enough that the people in his life avoided speaking and acting in obviously racist ways. The absence of intentional racism is not the same as promoting equality and respect for all. 

Racism seems awfully hard to eradicate. But there is something White Americans can do that will make a difference, and quite possibly could have made a difference in the lives of the Charleston shooter and his victims. Most People of Color already do it. But now White Americans who are sickened by the Charleston church massacre must begin speaking the truth of the value and worth of every human being. We must begin, at every opportunity, to respond constructively to jokes and negative generalizations about people with dark skin. 

Speaking up it isn't easy, and most of us need help to do it well. Considering the nature of this event, the church is an obvious institution to offer this help. Yet any organization can begin to provide resources to people who want to know how to counter the negative messages that abound in our society. 

Research shows that our brains fail us when someone we know says something offensive. We unconsciously make excuses, and tell ourselves, "He really didn't mean it." So, in order to counter those involuntary defensive responses, we need to proactively practice more effective responses. WordSmooth's Socha programs are some of the many positive resources available.

What do you say if your friend tells you he wants to start a race war? We recommend asking some curious questions. Here are some options: "A race war, you say? What's that all about?"  "What do you hope to accomplish?" " What's leading you to say that?" The key in asking these questions is to be curious and non-judgmental. The next step is to listen to and clarify the answers. These skills are part of a program called ACE-ing Conflict that we have provided for two decades. The goal of the ACE-ing Conflict skill set is to open up a window of communication that encourages thinking and a space for sharing positive information that can turn the situation around. For most people, these skills are not instinctive; the only way to have access to these skills is to practice them.

Maybe we can't eliminate the racist messages in our society, but we can do a much better job of drowning them out with positive messages in every medium: online, televised, radio, musical, visual, verbal, and more. Our goal is for every young person in America to experience three positive messages for every negative one. One of the most basic but informative ways to provide positive messages is through a bulletin board -- physical, online, or both. We can only counter the negative messages if we increase our knowledge of the positive. Please make a personal commitment right now to increasing your positive message output, and contact us at for more information.

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WordSmooth is a leader in the fields of diversity and inclusive communication. We offer a full range of diversity training, writing, editing, consulting services. 

The Socha (Sōk´-hä) diversity + effectiveness learning sessions from WordSmooth provide a pathway through the maze of leadership and professional development tools. 

After extensive research, we have identified internal, interpersonal and organizational behaviors that, when combined, are core building blocks of a truly effective organization. Socha infuses effectiveness training with a respect for diversity -- a unique and proven pathway designed to “Sow, Cultivate, and Harvest” your organization’s full potential.

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