Race – Why Can’t We Talk About It?

I am a white woman married to a black man with three bi-racial daughters. This does not make me an expert on race. I don’t know how to talk about it and I worry that when I do want to talk about it, I may say something wrong and inadvertently offend someone. Unfortunately, no one wants to talk about it because it’s uncomfortable.

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Even today, I read through a guide that was distributed at work that was a how-to on having conversations with co-workers about diversity. LGBT, religion, age, gender – all topics contained in this guide. Race was no where to be found. Which either means race issues do not exist in the work place or we are just going to pretend like they don’t exist because  maybe if we don’t talk about them they will just go away. How is that working for us as a nation?

Over a year ago, I participated in a table talk discussion on race and unconscious bias. It was exciting to see a room full of people (mostly women) that wanted to have an open dialogue on the topic. The conversation was awkward, but it was definitely a start. The whole point was to teach us how to have the conversation. However, as we tip-toed around the topic, someone in the audience made a comment to a woman in the room who was married to a black man, that the reason she had always been attracted to black men was because it was taboo. Subconsciously, her mind told her the man wfullsizeoutput_41ddas dangerous and this made him more attractive to her. Now…that was a conversation I would have liked to continue because it was a generalized statement that was extremely offensive to me and I would have liked to better explore the person’s thoughts on that topic. I sat there quietly though, festering, the words jumbled and trapped in my head.

The statement made me angry because it turns something three-dimensional into a two-dimensional flat image. People are so much more complex. I believe people’s pasts, how they were raised, what challenges they have encountered in their life, shape them. So to say that white women are attracted to black men because it’s taboo is an ignorant stereotype and strips away individuality.

If we are ever going to have a conversation and start understanding each other, we all need to stop making over-generalized statements. I still think MTV’s The Real World was a brilliant show when it first started. Bring people of all different backgrounds together and force them to live with each other. You saw the change in people (at least in most cases). People started to get to know each other as people and not as a group formed out of stereotypes they learned along the way.

A wisdom begins to form in people who are born with obstacles in front of them. They have to work harder for what they have and they have to dream bigger because dreams aren’t as easily laid out for them. They laugh harder because they know what real problems are and know it’s easier to laugh then get bogged down by things outside of their control. When the person chooses to allow that wisdom to take root, it draws people in. Is it possible that could be a reason why people are attracted to each other? They have both faced some sort of obstacle in their lives and they find commonality in that struggle which attracts them to each other.

As an outsider looking in, I am jealous of the African-American community. That may sound crazy, but it’s true. Their past is intertwined with each other. It seems like they have a strong sense of who they are because of the struggles of the generations before them. They have a shared understanding of the unfairness of the judgment placed on them because of the color of their skin. In the same token though, they are proud of who they are. They continue to fight for the safety of their neighborhoods, and deal with the dilemma of whether they leave those neighborhoods or work to improve them. When I am the minority in a room of African-American men and women, the vibe is different. It buzzes with electricity and laughter that is bold not whispered. Opinions are proclaimed, not just lost under their breath.

I see the strength it takes to be ready to deflect  an ignorant comment escaping someone’s mouth. Even Michele Obama wasn’t immune to this. She spent 8 years in the public eye as First Lady, and is a remarkable, brilliant, inspirational woman. Yet towards the last few months of her husband’s presidency, two women on social media, one of which had been elected to a government position, called her “an ape in heels”.

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So as I reflect on what I am trying to say here, I guess it is this. I love that this country is made up of people with such diverse backgrounds. I want to be surrounded by people that carry a humble wisdom with them and help me to be a better person. I want my chickens to grow up in a country that continues to become more open and inclusive. I hope that we quickly overcome this bump in the road we are on right now and we find leadership that leads us back to a more positive path.

“It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and in the life of this country. Our hope that if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, then we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us. The hope that when people see us for who we truly are, maybe, just maybe they, too, will be inspired to rise to their best possible selves.

-Michelle Obama

 

 

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