Meaningful Conversations Regarding Race
The great Desmond Tutu once lamented, “If one is neutral in situations of injustice, you have taken the side of the oppressor.” An unprecedented number of people around the world have taken to the streets in protest of racial injustice. These marches are moving the national conversation toward meaningful change. The next phase is to have these conversations between friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.
Antiracism is often declared but rarely practiced. Civil rights laws have been on the books for a half century. Government agencies, private businesses, and educational institutions present themselves as committed to equality and justice. People of color have come to occupy positions of power and prestige in many areas, including the highest offices in government. Yet racial oppression and suppression continue in the form of ever expanding racial wealth and racial health gaps, in the disproportionate exposure of people of color to multiple forms of premature death, and the relegation of members of aggrieved racial groups to polluted poverty stricken neighborhoods and to jails, detention centers, and prisons. Rather than ushering in a new era of human liberation, the changes of the last half-century have simply produced a new system of racial subordination.
Malcolm X predicted, if they cannot beat you, they will join you, but when they join you, they will lead you down a path you never intended to follow. The solutions crafted by people in power in response to the freedom movements of the twentieth century did not meet the radical demands of insurgents, but instead channeled them toward compromise. The insincere embrace of antiracism stems from assumptions that racism is aberrant, irrational, individual, and intentional, when in fact it is structural, systemic, collective, and cumulative. Civil rights laws, diversity programs, and the elevation of darker faces to higher places enable individuals to object to overtly racist impediments to upward mobility and full citizenship, but they keep in place systems of collective racial rule
Intimate conversations are where true change can happen. That is why our current generation of activists are more successful than their predecessors. They have had open and honest conversations about the inequities of society. Effective communications are the way diverse people can understand each other to bring about true systemic change. Those who foster racism and advocate for our hegemonic society, where taught to believe white is right. They have a jaundiced view of history that justifies the mistreatment of those they consider inferior. Beliefs are difficult to change which is why change comes from personal, intimate conversations, these conversations are most effective if they are initiated at home or another safe place. Defense mechanisms take over when force is applied in the attempt to change someone’s mind or behavior. Changes in attitude and behavior rarely come about because of arguments, facts, and attempts to persuade. Engaging someone in a conversation where mutual learning is the goal often results in change. Individuals are more likely to change if they think they are understood and respected.
Who have you talked to about race?