Sunday, August 24, 2014

Let's Really Talk About Race

This is no way to conduct a conversation
So many kind, well-intentioned white people seem to be on “autopilot” when it comes to issues of race in America. Specifically, when persons of color insist they regularly experience racial oppression, their statements often get minimized or worse, refuted by the white person, often followed by a canned problem-solving lecture on American values and equality of opportunity. Yet some so-called races are more equal than others.

More than a few white folks believe race is no barrier to success; for persons of color who are floundering, in order to make it, just work harder, learn to proper speak English, pull up the sagging pants and along with them your bootstraps.

Downgraded or ignored with disappointing regularity are festering wounds caused by racially oppressive policies and practices (and the historic institutions that prop them up). Like a virus invading the body, institutional racism has overridden our moral compasses and systematically infected every nook and cranny of our great society.

But unlike most influenza cases, which cause temporary physical harm, racism inflicts enduring, often invisible emotional and psychological damage. For nonwhites like me, the injuries can be readily apparent and a near everyday occurrence. Ironically, whites suffer too; most just can’t see or feel it. How could they without knowing the “symptoms”?
Let's stop the trash talking on all sides
Being part of the dominant race group in America, a white person has the luxury of choosing to be, or not be, part of the racial oppression conversation. But like toxic waste buried deep underground, it eventually leeches out. And it does so in ways that are obvious and not so apparent.

When most folks finally do get around to talking about race, it tends to be conducted in ways that affirm their position, and usually with people who agree with them. The result: little dialog around the issue’s deep, often contradictory complexity.

Heard from both sides: “It’s their problem.” “Talking about it only fuels the issue.” “Why can’t they all act more like [fill in the blank]?”

Even when we’re not talking race, we’re thinking about it. All of us. Consciously and unconsciously. Science bears this out in countless studies on the reality known as implicit bias.

Race is a complicated subject. It’s messy and painful in a way that has no single remedy. Hard work, yes. Education, yes. But also empathy. Race is a subject in which all sides should be heard. Dialog, not monolog. With deep, active listening for understanding happening on all sides.

Most of us are stuck though. Pinned down in the trenches of self-righteousness. We assess other positions based on our own rigid, unwavering stance. Fueled by whichever network talking heads best represent the simplistic soundtrack looping in our minds.

Possibilities become unlimited through honest dialog
The result? Stalemate. No progress. The same verbal assaults, armed with age-old rhetoric so cemented in our psyche that we’re not even open to the single most scary possibility of all: what if we’re wrong? No ideas, just ideals. It’s like World War I again, but the combat employs words instead of bullets. Well, sometimes bullets are used…

Time to declare a ceasefire. Time for all sides to come to the table for straight talk. Not an angry discussion but an authentic one in which all sides speak from the heart; and all sides listen. It’s a dialogue that avoids topics like who did what to whom and when. Been there, done that. Instead let’s explore how we might collectively transform the nature of our society and its currently broken systems (education, food, healthcare, housing, etc.) into ones that facilitate opportunities for all, no matter our race.

Like all hard discussions, there’s only one right time; and that’s now. I, for one am ready. There are others. Will you join the dialogue?


Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at

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