Let's get real about race

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When the topic of race comes up, does who you're with shape what you say? Sitting with people who share your racial identity, would you use words or phrases that you might not use in "mixed company," for fear of offending someone?

Maybe you'd tolerate or even laugh at a joke that normally you
might object to. Or imitate someone's voice or accent in a way that a
different crowd might find hurtful. Perhaps you even might start
referring to that other group as "them," not just as a pronoun, but to
hold that group of people at arms length from your own.

I
think we all do. What people say about race in public is very different
from what is said in private. And the Internet has created a new realm
of privacy - anonymous comments - where people can say hateful things
without accountability. What do these moments say about us? And how
does having two very different conversations about race, both happening
simultaneously, shape our nation?

Over the next month, we're going to be delving into those questions and asking a few more. We're participating in a national conversation about race, the "Race and America's Future virtual book club," sponsored by Equity Blog. Together, we'll be reading the book "Uncommon Common Ground,"
a dialogue between three civil rights activists about what race means
in America today. Each Wednesday for six weeks, we'll be talking about
different aspects of race, racial identity, systemic racism and
diversity. Take a look at the topics:

Sept. 29: Are We Post-Racial Yet?
Oct. 6:
Color Lines: Growing and Accepting Diversity
Oct. 13:
Race and the Economy
Oct. 20:
Urgent Challenges: Immigration, Incarceration, and Climate Change
Oct. 27:
New Leadership for now and 2050
Nov. 3: Equity is the Superior Growth Model

Every
week, we'll blog about the conversation that takes place - what we
learn from each other, and what we discover about race. You can
participate, too. Pick up a copy of the book and read along, or just
join the conversation.

One
caveat: Living in America, we're all racist. We live in a highly
racialized society - a place where we're all very aware of the racial
divides and what being of one race or another says about us. You can't
live here and not notice. All of us have inherited racial stereotypes,
prejudices and images. We're all "smog-breathers," as author Beverly
Daniel Tatum would say:  

Prejudice is one of the
inescapable consequences of living in a racist society. Cultural racism
... is like smog in the air. Sometimes it is so thick, it is visible,
other times less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are
breathing it in. None of us would introduce ourselves as
"smog-breathers" (and most of us don't want to be described as
prejudiced), but if we live in a smoggy place, how can we avoid
breathing the air?

So bring your prejudices, your
inappropriate jokes, your impressions and voices - everything you'd
never share in "mixed company," and lay them on the table. Let's have a
real, honest conversation about what race means in America today.

Photo credit: Mark Holloway 

Comments

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  • I've never understood the "we're all racist" charge. As a mixed race individual who grew up in one of the most integrated neighborhoods in the city I noticed race and racists but carry no prejudice against any particular race. Is it just an attempt to avoid the "bet you're racist too" argument that derails many discussions of race?

  • In reply to JayGR:

    I feel like it's possible for people to be less or more racist, but growing up in this country, I can't see how you wouldn't at least learn the stereotypes and images we see about race. If there's a criminal on the news, what color is he? If there's a story about a welfare mom, do you picture her as white? Maybe you don't believe these stereotypes and fight actively against them, but they're still in your head.

    I actually feel like when someone says they grew up in such a way that they couldn't be racist, that's what derails conversations. You're setting yourself apart from and above the rest of us. That shuts people down rather than opens them up. If we can all admit that we've received - perhaps to different degrees - strong societal messages about race, then it's a discussion, not a lecture from the perfect to the imperfect.

  • In reply to JayGR:

    Thanks for highlighting the book club, Megan. We over at EquityBlog really hope this will be an opportunity to raise the exact issues you talk about -- what is racism? what can we do to ameliorate the effects? what impact will our nation's changing demographics have on our children's experience with race?

    Looking forward to Wednesday!

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