(Photo: Brian Baker/WIBC)
Braxton Barnhill and I were total strangers and political polar opposites. A debate on Twitter over violence on the East side of Indianapolis and the Hogsett administration turned into a dialogue. That dialogue became an opportunity to confess an area of struggle in my life, ask uncomfortable questions, and embrace a desire to change as I seek to better understand the various perspectives and challenges in the black community.
Braxton Barnhill is an extraordinary young man who exudes a gentle confidence and communicates in a manner that immediately captures your respect. He held his ground throughout our exchange on Twitter without going on the attack, and I immediately recognized that despite our many differences, we shared a genuine desire to listen and learn from each other.
Shortly after our Twitter exchange, I extended an invitation to Braxton to drop by the WIBC studios for a dialogue about racism and various challenges in the black community that I wanted to better understand from his perspective rather than my own. He graciously accepted; however, it took me a couple of months to muster up the courage to go through with it. It’s a dangerous time to pose questions that could be perceived as ignorant or racially insensitive, even when asked from a place of genuine intellectual curiosity.
I’ve had confidence from the beginning that Braxton understood my intention in requesting an in-person dialogue, but making our conversation public could still have serious consequences. In the end, I decided it was worth the risk and I’d deal with the ramifications.
Braxton allowed me the opportunity to ask uncomfortable questions without getting offended or passing judgment. My only agenda for our time together was to understand the challenges in the black community from his perspective. I was there to listen, not to debate.
Like most white people, I don’t consider myself a racist. I recognize, however, that I struggle with potentially prejudice views that I’ve skillfully learned to justify and defend over the years.
The truth is that I put far more time and energy into expressing my views and opinions than actively searching for solutions. I get angry about the things in this world that don’t work the way I think they should work, but I do little to foster the changes I desire to see. Ego and an overwhelming desire to be “right” has hindered my growth by keeping me anchored to my resentments and frustrations.
As the saying goes, the older I get, the more I realize how much I have left to learn. It seems like the majority of us spend a lot of time arguing about who’s responsible for the problems of our world and why the solutions put forth by our “opponents” suck.
What I know for myself is that I’m a better person when I listen to others with empathy, a willingness to be wrong or look stupid, and a genuine desire to understand how those who are different from me perceive and experience the world around them. More often than not, we share a common goal. Isn’t that the thing that matters most?
About Braxton Barnhill: Braxton is a young filmmaker based in Indianapolis with plans to continue pursuing his dream career in Los Angeles. He grew up in Indianapolis and attended North Central High school. Braxton enjoys reading, following politics, exercise and the sport of boxing. He hopes to one day make films that inspire people and challenge their preconceived notions of the world.