I need to start talking about race

I’m a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, university graduated, middle class American man. Granted, I am gay, but other than that, I’m pretty representative of the dominant culture in the United States. And somewhere in the process of growing up, I learned the message that I shouldn’t be racist but also that it isn’t really my place to talk about race. After all, that’s something that African-Americans or Latinx or Asian-American people are better placed to talk about. After all, what do I know about racism? It would be racist of me to talk about race, wouldn’t it? I’ve come to realize that, quite the opposite, it is necessary for me to start talking about race.

The realization began with a question. After reading the news of the brutal, senseless deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and then George Floyd, I asked myself, “What is it going to take for things to change?” And somewhere in the silence that followed that question, instead of just shrugging my shoulders and moving my attention to the next story, the first strains of an answer started to enter my mind.

These first strains started to unlock something in my mind. They started to stir my heart. And they started to dissolve the scales on my eyes. Because I realized that nothing will change, so long as people like me have the passing thought, “Oh, that’s a shame” in reaction to stories of racist brutality and then move on to the next story. Nothing will change, until people like me start to give a damn. Nothing will change until people like me really act like, if all lives matter then black and brown lives matter, too, instead of just saying it.

And by “people like me”, let me be clear that I mean white people.

So this is the start of my journey. In talking about race, I am going to make a lot of mistakes, to unintentionally insult people and to demonstrate my ignorance many times over. But that’s okay, because we don’t learn by staying in the comfort zone. I can already see that this journey will require a lot of courage, because it quickly becomes clear: I am part of the problem. We (white people) are part of the problem – a big part! And thankfully, we can also be part of the solution. In fact, we have no choice.

After I asked that question, “What is it going to take for things to change?” and started to realize I needed to look for some answers instead of letting the question be rhetorical, I found my first resource: Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a sociologist who for many years has worked in the fields of multicultural education and whiteness studies. Her 2018 book, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” was revelatory and challenging.

You can watch an 80-minute talk she gave in Seattle where she outlines the book or you can watch this five-minute video that hits the key message. There is a lot to unpack in the book and I’ll start sharing my thoughts on that in my next post.

In the meantime, I’ve started with two steps: educate myself and start talking about race. I’m reading and watching and listening to new and different sources of information. And I’m speaking about race, asking questions and listening to the answers in conversations with friends, family members and others around me.

And I look forward to sharing my journey with you.

Do You Touch the Third Rail?

At the birthplace of the United States Tuesday afternoon, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama addressed the issue of race in America as part of the Presidential campaign.  Race has always been one of the “third rails” of American politics: you can use it, hint at it, or ignore it, but don’t touch it!

Obama Philly Senator Obama’s speech was one of the most honest and informative on the topic that I’ve read.  Instead of trying to follow politically expedient routes, he instead talked about the issue in a way that I think all Americans can relate to. 

Regardless of our racial identity, almost all Americans have in their hearts a complex web of conflicting thoughts, feelings and experiences as it relates to race.  Even the most liberal-minded among us are tainted by the fears, innuendo, and racism we’ve been exposed to in our lives.

Even though the nature of the campaign for the White House encourages us to think about race in very reductionist ways, the issue is one that very much exists and very much influences our lives.  And yet, as the Senator points out, it is time to “move beyond some of our old racial wounds.”

“The comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have not yet made perfect.  And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education or the need to find good jobs for every American.”

Regardless of your political persuasion or, for that matter, nationality, I’d encourage you to take fifteen minutes to read the full text of Senator Obama’s speech.  For Americans, it gives some much-needed food for thought.  For people outside of the US, it provides an interesting insight into how the issue of race uniquely affects our country’s culture and politics.

The full text of the Senator’s speech is here.