We continue to mourn with and pray for those whose loved ones were killed in Baton Rouge, in the St. Paul area and in Dallas. We are struggling as a nation to make sense of it all — the horror of innocent lives taken, the motives of killers and the implications for race and police-community relations in America.

I only wish that we white people would practice more meekness in this struggle. I am troubled by the chasm between perspectives. Black people and others of color pour their hearts out railing against pervasive racism and longstanding injustices, while whites too often remain silent or minimize the role of race in the deaths of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Samuel DuBose, Jonathan Ferrell, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Eric Harris, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling and others.

I appreciate that perspectives on this are not strictly race-based. Certainly there are differences in views within racial groups as well. I understand this firsthand. I am a white, politically moderate professional who disagrees with many of my family and friends (from similar demographics) on these issues.

Yet, in the news, on social media, and in conversations over the past several days I have also witnessed discouraging trends among many white people. Here are a few:

• By and large we define racism simply as interpersonal meanness, failing to acknowledge the more significant aspects: institutionalized discrimination and unintentional prejudice.

• We perceive Black Lives Matter as a threat to the value of others’ lives. We respond, “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter,” as if BLM folks actually disagree with this.

• We argue that the solution is love, and that love is colorblind. This way we avoid uncomfortable conversations about race and racism.

Too many whites assert these views with certainty and volume, at the peril of progress and nuance. We do not seem to understand that we see the world not as it is, but as we are. We fail to exhibit compassion for the experiences of black communities because we are too far removed — in our segregated neighborhoods and schools.

Born of isolation, white ignorance of black communities and black lives is the principal barrier to racial progress in America. To resolve this we need to cultivate our character — to change who we are. Meekness is the chief attribute we need to develop.

Practicing meekness can help us move beyond misconceptions, dismissiveness and indifference. I do not mean meekness as weakness, but strength. The meek are open, teachable and curious. They are the first to recognize and correct their own ignorance. They seek out new experiences and confront their discomfort. One theologian put it: “meekness can rescue us from ourselves … when we are deep in error, even when others have written us off.”

Meekness is not timidity. Indeed, “the presentation of self in a posture of kindness and gentleness, reflecting certitude, strength, serenity, and a healthy self-esteem and self-control. [W]hen the meek speak up they do so without speaking down.”

What can we do to develop more meekness in matters of race and racism?

Listen — We should seek out and listen carefully to the racial experiences of blacks and others of color. I mean really listen — seek to understand — without defense or rebut. This includes trying our best to comprehend outraged reactions to white officers killing unarmed black men. Listening has an empathy component. It is more than just hearing and responding.

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Study — We should be more knowledgeable of the dimensions of racism. Richard Davis recently reminded us that there are historic roots to ongoing racial discrimination in our economic, educational, and judicial institutions. Piles of empirical studies, moreover, show that we have unconscious racial biases. We unintentionally discriminate in subtle yet consequential ways. Insidious racism is pervasive. It propagates institutional privilege and explains why, in split-second decisions, officers are more likely to use force with and fatally shoot blacks than whites.

Act — We should confront our discomfort and biases to effect change. We can correct misconceptions, share even-handed information, support policies and participate in initiatives organized by communities of color. We should be allies. At a vigil in Provo on July 10, Chief of Police John King (white) emphatically expressed, “It’s been a tough week for America, but every day in America it’s extra tough for people of color. That’s why I support Black Lives Matter.”

The meek will not be unanimous in their views, and I am not asking for meekness to trump personal integrity. I am encouraging us to follow the examples of meek whites who, like Chief King, change themselves to see the world more as it really is.

Bryant Jensen is an assistant professor of education at Brigham Young University. He conducts school improvement research for children of color. His views do not necessarily represent the official views of BYU.

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