Posted: 10:02 am Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Race: An unspeakable subject? 

By rbadie

Moderated by Rick Badie

It’s often hard for us to have a frank and honest conversation about race in America, even in a city like Atlanta that’s thought to be the cradle of the civil rights movement. Today’s guest writers — one a white female, the other a self-described black conservative — issue a challenge to us all.

Challenge white silence

By Christine Ristaino

I was grading essays and writing a summary for work, but also distracted by email and Facebook. I read a few lines of an article — “Why Black People Are Cowards” — and posted it. It was now on my timeline for all the world to see.

The piece was satirical, meant to stir people into being more courageous in the face of racism. But I quickly had second thoughts. How would it play out coming from me, a white woman? I quickly posted two other articles critical of white people to counterbalance. Finally, I just deleted all three.

Too often, this is what it feels like for white people to talk about race: Tentative, tiptoeing, halting fits and starts, and finally, fleeing for dear life. It’s a counterproductive dance that after our long history we should be getting better at.

Yet when it comes to talking about race, many people would prefer to do just about anything else. I teach Italian language and culture at Emory University and regularly lead diversity initiatives on campus. But even for me, somebody who is used to talking about race, I am cautious when having these discussions, and the cowardice argument from the “Black People Are Cowards” blog post hit me hard.

Can I be bold, honest and courageous while also respectful and compassionate? Or does being part of a privileged group force me into a cheerleader position in conversations about race? Can I be critical of other nationalities, ethnicities and races in a constructive, unbiased way? Do I, as a member of a privileged group, even have a right to be critical? A black friend of mine recently said no. He could, but because I am white, he said, I would run into problems.

However, in “Understanding and Dismantling Privilege,” education scholar Robin DiAngelo states that people of privilege need to become involved in discussions on race. “White silence,” she says, “functions to maintain white power and privilege and must be challenged.”

In a 2012 study, Kellogg School of Management Professor Lauren A. Riviera concludes that members of upper management, composed of predominantly educated upper-middle and upper-class white men and women, often hire those who prefer activities associated with people of their own backgrounds. And part of the reason management doesn’t move beyond this practice is because managers are unaware they do this.

The first step in making people aware of privilege is to talk about race in a robust way.

There are things we can do to make online conversations easier. The next time I come across a controversial article, I will post it but also put it into context. Asking my readers their opinion about the article would have opened up the conversation, not shut it down. I could have included my own anecdote to further discussion. And admitting my discomfort while expressing a desire to create change can empower everyone to come up with a positive way forward.

Christine Ristaino is a professor of Italian language and culture at Emory University.

Discuss race without fear

By Demetrius Minor

Because of the hyper-sensitivity our world has succumbed to, the issue of race is a subject of taboo or insecurity to many. The truth is, we should all talk about it.

It’s really hard to label anyone an expert of race. Many of us have been exposed to various cultural practices and living conditions, but there is a world out there that transcends our experiences or academic knowledge.

We should discuss race for the simple matter of being educated. All of us are unlearned in some area of life. It would do us good to step outside our comfort level and become aware of issues surrounding us.

When discussing race, it is important to realize the emotions and experiences that accompany the topic. A white person, even with good intentions, will never be black and, therefore, cannot speak as a black person. A black person will never be white and, therefore, cannot possess the feelings of a white person. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just the different components of genetics and behavior.

The purpose of discussing race is to garner a better understanding and appreciation for others’ lives. Just because one may say, “My best friend is black,” doesn’t necessarily mean they have taken the time to understand the diverse areas of black culture. The racial makeup of our circle of friends will give a great indication of how we perceive race. If our friends look just like we do, that signals we are afraid of stepping outside of normalcy and comfort. It doesn’t make us evil people. Just unlearned.

When we seek to educate ourselves, we may find our perceptions in error. When discussing race, it’s beneficial to keep an open mind and a respectful dialogue.

One of the biggest barriers to bridging the racial divide is assumption. We cannot assume that all black people and all white people think alike. I vividly remember some whites in 2008 assuming I was going to vote for Obama solely based on the fact I have brown skin. I know some blacks who are cautious and weary of engaging with whites because they assume they are out to manipulate them. Assumptions are not healthy. They only cause us to be apprehensive and regressive when it comes to communication.

We must be willing to find what we have in common, instead of what separates us. Black and whites alike cherish family, friends, cultural activities, education, sports and such. When we become more focused on the individual, we will find ourselves embracing not only diversity, but humanity.

Nobody should have to fear repercussions due to voicing their opinions on race. But for their views to be valid, they must listen, engage and educate themselves. If we do not discuss race, we limit ourselves and become citizens of an isolated world.

Race is a beautiful thing. It’s a human thing. It should be embraced, not feared.

Demetrius Minor serves on the national advisory council of the Project 21 Black Leadership Network.

 

 

8 comments
JZBingham
JZBingham

It's hard to believe this is still an issue, but I can't help but think it's somewhat overblown by the media. There are so many examples of people getting along that I see in my daily life, and nowhere is this evident if you look at the media. It's very unjust to bias the population with news clips that skew toward racism in order to justify political goals. That's all I see these days. The racism that exists, in my view, comes from those who use it to their advantage. Just like the "war on women," this is a tag line and a topic that gets attention, driving home the political agenda of those who benefit the most (certainly not the minorities). The day murders in Chicago get as much attention as the Zimmerman/Trayvon case is the day I'll have respect for what the media tells me is an issue. Their bias proves racism is a cover for their political agenda. 

palepadre
palepadre

This particularly affects those that were denied them and has resulted in a shakeup of their culture. Different races can intermarry for the most part live where they want to and attend colleges that are other than predominantly one race. So some men are looking just for sex and when the woman gets pregnant they leave because it is their right. To say there is a great gap between black and white education is not really accurate for you must include all other races and seemingly the Oriental race seems to value education more therefore their children get higher grades. Because those education valuers believe in a mother and father being in the house. Civil rights is fair no one should be deprived but it has resulted in races choosing to marry someone other than their own race and going to college  you'd not call predominantly one race. Women of all races should respect themselves either by using contraception or requiring a wedding ring from the male.

palepadre
palepadre

 Civil Rights

Personal liberties that belong to an individual, owing to his or her status as a citizen or resident of a particular country or community.

The most common legal application of the term civil rights involves the rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens and residents by legislation and by the Constitution. Civil rights protected by the Constitution include Freedom of Speech and freedom from certain types of discrimination.

Starik
Starik

Slavery, segregation and Jim Crow were ugly. I haven't yet been to the new civil rights museum but I'll be disappointed if there's no section on Georgia politicians' handling of race between 1950 and 1970, including some of the J.B.Stoner for Governor TV spots. 


The current era of afffirmative action, frivolous discrimination lawsuits and the treatment of anybody (the basketball team owner comes to mind) who speaks incorrectly (even in private) isn't pretty either.  An honest discussion would be helpful, and I wish the AJC had a regular blog on race.  Look at the "get Schooled" blog; a considerable number of the posts discuss racial issues and it's instructive to see what people think. How about these topics:


DeKalb County. Does race have anything to do with what it has become?  How do public schools in white ares with low poverty rates get packed with student bodies that are mostly black and all poor?  Does this process result in segregation when the white folks flee?  Are they justified in their flight?


Criminal justice. Is the overpopulation of blacks in the system due to racism or an oversupply of young blacks committing the offenses that lead to prison sentences?

redweather
redweather

Lots of luck to anyone who attempts to deal with this issue satirically.  With the exception of Key and Peele, no one should even think about race and satire at the same time.

friendsofdearbornpark
friendsofdearbornpark

@The_SAWB I think it's naive to think we can move past race, especially if you're a person of color. You're reminded of it in the most subtle ways. I live in a rapidly changing area in Decatur, www.midwaywoods.com. It's odd most people when they move here say the love the diversity, however, each time a new person move's in it becomes less diverse. I see the way when I walk my dog and a few (not all) white people don't speak to blacks unless they know them, however, if I'm with my husband, who is white, they will speak to me if they don't know me. 

The other is how we view the world. Attiticus LeBlanc who is running for DeKalb School Board District 3 sent 2 mailers out. One with a black person on it and it said "Equal Rights = Equal School Choice" He sent another out with a nice portrait of his family. He happens to be white. On the postcard with the black person on it he mentions he is trying to bridge the race gap. If that is the case why even send two separate postcards at all? 

I mentioned that I was offended by this on our listserve. A white person said that this was inflammatory that I would say that. 

Circle back to your comment that most white people want to move past race. I think SOME white people want to ignore or pretend it's not there. I think it's funny when some white people say they are color blind. That, to me, means you don't respect our differences.

The other thing I hear is "my best friend is black" but who many other people outside your race do you associate with. I can clearly state, as a person of color, that have friends of all races. Not just a co-worker, but people where we regularly visit one another, have each other's cell number and actually know one another.

Lastly, there is an income divide amongst blacks especially in Atlanta. All of my friends are middle to upper middle class blacks, yet when we have the discussion of race you make it seem as if all blacks are underprivileged. Yet, at our income level we still encounter racism. The talk about how did he get that position or I bet it was affirmative action (that doesn't exist anymore) or the resentment we get when we have positions of power (Obama). So, it still hasn't come to the time when a man is judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin.

The_SAWB
The_SAWB

Based on my experience most white people simply want to move past race. While we may not be as sensitive as we should be most members of my generation and younger have been taught to see everyone as equals. So, when some people attack everything we do or say as racist it’s difficult to process. If I support less government why is that racist? If I purchase a handgun why is that racist? If prefer to live in a community with low crime and good schools why is that racist? The truth of the matter is none of these things are racist, but often times they are used as examples of racism.


Much of this is the fact that calling a white person “racist” can automatically silence them and win the debate. Many people of color have learned this tactic and use it to their advantage. Also, some of it is based on disparities in economic or social status which is blamed on whites. While I understand the cycle of poverty it is often based on behavior not on race. Like everyone we do our best to make a living in an ever more challenging economy, educate our children, care for our parents, save a little money and give something back to our communities.


Most of us spend little time thinking about matters of race maybe that’s a problem and then again maybe it’s not. Remember, we were raised not to see race, but to see everyone as equals. So, when we see people misusing terms like racism for political or even financial gain how do we respond how can we have a conversation. Quite honestly the entire thing can be quite exhausting and to paraphrase a great man – we wish to be judged and to judge others by the content of character and not the color of skin.

Paul01
Paul01

Are people experiencing racism or are they being taught racism? I do not believe that I live in a cocoon. I just do not see it. The only people that I see who are possibly discriminated against are black males who wish to be news anchors on evening news programs. They have been virtually extinct since ABC’s Max Robinson in 1978.