Wednesday, August 27, 2014

We Need to Talk... About Race

I haven't talked about the murder in Ferguson of Michael Brown, mostly because it's part of such an enormous issue affecting our country that I felt utterly overwhelmed. I was happy to receive an email from my friend Janet, linking to the New York Times opinion piece by Charles M. Blow, "Constructing a Conversation on Race", because it gave me a mental starting point for thinking about all this.

For those who won't click through to read the entire article, here are some excerpts:

A true racial dialogue is not intra-racial but interracial. It is not one-directional — from minorities to majorities — but multidirectional. Data must be presented. Experiences must be explored. Histories and systems must be laid bare. Biases, fears, stereotype and mistrust must be examined. Personal — as well as societal and cultural — responsibility must be taken.

And privileges and oppressions must be acknowledged. We must acknowledge how each of us is, in myriad ways, materially and spiritually affected by a society in which bias has been widely documented to exist and in which individuals also acknowledge that it exists.


Understanding this fundamental inequality, one that trails each of us from cradle to grave, is one of the first steps to genuine, honest dialogue, because in that context we can better understand the choice that people make and the degree to which personal responsibility should be taken or the degree to which it is causative or curative.

And while acknowledging the inequality, and hopefully working to remedy it, we have to find ways to encourage and fortify its targets. I often tell people that while I know well that things aren’t fair or equal, we still have to decide how we are going to deal with that reality, today. The clock on life is ticking. If you wait for life to be fair you may be waiting until life is over. I urge people to fight on two fronts: Work to dismantle as much systematic bias as you can, as much for posterity as for the present, and make the best choice you can under the circumstances to counteract the effects of these injustices on your life right now. 

Next, understand that race is a weaponized social construct used to divide and deny... [W]e have tuned our minds to register this difference above all others, in the blink of an eye. As National Geographic reported in October, “A study of brain activity at the University of Colorado at Boulder showed that subjects register race in about one-tenth of a second, even before they discern gender.” This means that racial registration — and responses to any subconscious bias we may have attached to race — are most likely happening ahead of any deliberative efforts on our part to be egalitarian. (Source
I know that I certainly process race first when looking at strangers. We were at Independence Center with Henry last week and I noticed that when I scanned the crowd, I processed information on people in this order: race, age, and gender. It was the first time I'd been so conscious of how I mentally categorize people, and it shocked me.

On the other hand, I've been aware of the privileges afforded me based on having white skin for many years. I've seen first-hand how local cops will harass law-abiding black men, and every time I see 3 or 4 cop cars parked on the side of the road, I know I'll find a black man handcuffed and sitting on the curb somewhere in the midst of it. Meanwhile, if a white guy gets arrested, it's a one cop operation. My uncle used to say, sardonically, "Who likes being white?" when a white person would talk about issues with the cops that they got out of for "no apparent reason." Prisons aren't filled mostly with African-American men by accident...

In her email to me and others, Janet, after linking to the NYT piece, stated:

At one time in Kansas City there were four organizations of which I was aware that offered such interracial conversations during what Charles Blow calls “dormant” times: Panel of American Women, National Conference of Christians & Jews (later known as National Conference of Community & Justice or NCCJ), Project Equality and Harmony In a World of Difference (later known as Kansas City Harmony). After attempting to shift to becoming all volunteer, the Panel of American Women closed its doors shortly after Harmony In a World of Difference began in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. The original Project Equality closed its doors in 2007. In 2005 NCCJ and Harmony merged to become Harmony NCCJ and then ceased to exist a few years later 2009 (?).

Except for consultants in private practice, I know of no organization whose specific purpose it is to help folks engage in interracial dialogue. High on my list of favorite ways to spend my time is facilitating folks to talk and engage across lines of difference and educating in ways to do so. I even got to do that in South Africa for a week ten years ago. Yes, there are folks who are doing projects “for”/”with” one another (such as gardening, cleaning up vacant lots, etc.) which is one valuable way to connect across lines of difference. My mantra about this is that facilitating and having interracial dialogue is a highly valuable component of healthily relating, one culture with another, and if not done up front can undermine what would have otherwise been good work.

If there are any folks out there who want to work to bring about such a program to provide dialogue and learning venues in the KC area, please contact me. (Personal email, 8/21/14)
You can get in touch with Janet regarding an inter-racial dialogue through her email at janetbridgeworks AT

Personally, I'm looking forward to taking part in an upcoming group reading of The New Jim Crow, which Janet is putting together.

I refuse to believe that these injustices cannot be righted. I believe future generations will look on back on these times as being a type of dark ages, and I'm doing all I can to bring on the Enlightenment!

Related posts:
Tony's Take on Racism in the Kansas City Area [Guest Post]
Racism in the Kansas City Area: 1900s - Present
Racism in the Kansas City Area: Western Expansion - 1800s
Racism in the Kansas City Area
Perception and Reaction to Racism Not Equal
Continuum of Acceptance
Black Inventors and their Inventions


Anonymous said...

Community360 has taken over the work that Harmony did in the area of high school programming. We also include facilitated sessions for college students, teachers, parents, and other adults. Find us at Thanks for a great blog post!

May said...

That's great information! Thanks for sharing :)