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Some of us need to be quiet and listen

There’s an old episode of Star Trek: Voyager where one of the characters, Commander Chakotay, crashes a shuttle on a planet and gets sucked into a conflict between the two peoples who live there. He’s reluctant to get involved, but the more time he spends with the people fighting the battles, the more he starts to sympathize with them and learn to hate the enemies fighting on the other side.

In the end, he’s rescued from the planet and learns that the atrocities he’d witnessed were just illusions designed to get him to hate the enemy. Even realizing the deception however, he’s not easily able to face the other people in the conflict without remembering how he’d learned to feel about them.

The episode ends with one final quote from Chakotay who simply says “I wish it were as easy to stop hating as it was to start.”

No Star Trek series is known for its subtlety, and this one is no different in trying to get its message across. But I first watched that episode when I was a kid, maybe not even 10 years old yet, and that quote has stuck with me all these years later. I use it periodically as a reminder to myself that anger and hatred can worm its way into yourself and take root like a poisonous weed if you let it. And weeds are always the hardest plants to uproot and toss away. So I have to be conscious about my thoughts and actions to make sure to stop anything before it starts.

And that episode is also a good reminder that surrounding yourself with only one point of view never tells the whole story. Things are always much more complex and you can’t just generalize it down to “all of this group is bad” and “all of our group is good.” I’ve tried for years to listen and read as many other viewpoints as possible because of that.

That old episode and that old quote have been on my mind a lot this past week after protests have sprung up across the country again in the wake of a police officer killing yet another black man. While the conversation about race and racism has never ended, it has gotten louder recently.

So it’s about time us non-black people should be quiet and listen. They have been trying to point out the horrors of racism for years and so many people have just turned a blind eye to it instead. I could recount so many instances of casually racist remarks I’ve heard over the years, but every time I’ve pointed it out to people, they’ve just dug their heels into the sand and refused to listen.

If self-reflection makes you feel uncomfortable, then good. Because it should. No one likes criticism, and no one likes actually examining the parts of ourselves that are less than perfect. But we absolutely need to. We may think we’re not contributing to the problem, but systemic racism involves everyone. And it’ll need everyone working together to finally end it.

I don’t know what the ultimate solution is. I don’t know how to change people’s minds if they’re unwilling to consider the problems in our society. But I know that we’ve had plenty of opportunities to start changing things for the better, and too many people have died as we let those opportunities slip by.

Please remember that it’s easy to learn how to hate. Please be willing to listen and learn how to change instead.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.