We currently live in a society where people are either sensitive to racial issues or desensitized to them. We often hear the negatives about the topic of race, but how often do we sit and have general conversations about race? Why is it that we avoid talking about something that both history and society deem as important? The conversation of race does not have to be avoided, nor should we feel the need to walk on eggshells around the topic. I believe that generating a conversation will identify the importance of talking about race while highlighting how not talking about it only confines the mind and drives negative schemas, biases, and preconceptions. The lack of conversation surrounding the topic keeps people ignorant of the truths about one another. All black people are not violent and all white people are not racist, just like being Muslim should not only be associated with terrorism. Are there some bad people out there in the world, sure, but along with those bad people are some pretty amazing people who celebrate diversity and fight for equality.
In my program at Northwestern, we are taught to process how we label and view ourselves, as well as how our personal experiences are driving factors in how we may or may not view the world around us. Earlier this week, I engaged in a conversation with a classmate about race. My classmate is a white female woman, so of course naturally, she and I share different experiences. She shared that she often feels uncomfortable addressing race because she does not want to say the wrong thing or offend anyone. I, on the other hand, stated that I am often uncomfortable in spaces of business due to me not wanting to say the wrong thing or sound like the “ignorant black man.” We both were shocked to hear one another’s points of view and how our race ties into our, often more common than we know it, discomfort. Now, we as society always talk about the negative aspect of our differences and the strain it has left on society (i.e., religion, wealth gaps, racism, police brutality, education, lack of resources and etc.), but do we ever just sit and listen to others talk about how they are impacted by race or their misunderstandings of it? I was amazed to hear that this white woman wanted to actively talk about race, she’s just afraid, and I honestly don’t blame her. Past and current climates in society have left us with an awkward and unsettling feeling towards one another. A white person can’t ask a question, only wanting to learn more, without being either laughed at or frowned at, and/or called racists while quickly being reminded of their white superiority and given looks of disgust as if they were secretly judging black people. A black person can’t ask a question without feeling like their ignorant, being judged, and/or hearing those micro-aggressively judgmental responses like “Does your family not do this?” followed with a smirk or snobby look as if my family is some piss poor uncultured and uncivilized group of people.
Let’s just set the record straight. No, all black people just eat watermelon and fried chicken and drink sweet tea. And yes, we actually do float in the water like everyone else, we’re not built out of weights. Oh and contrary to popular belief, not all white people smell like dog when they sweat or get wet, nor do all of them only make casseroles and not use seasoning in their food. I have enough white friends to know. If we continue to allow these stigmas and ignorant preconceptions of other races cloud our judgment and drive our fear to talk about race, we’ll never see a shift in society. Talking about race not only addresses the hardships of the past placed on black and brown people of minority races, but it also addresses why being aware of white privilege is important. When one does not understand their privilege, it begins to cause a rift in society and drive underlying forces of misunderstanding towards others. Not talking about feeling judged, misunderstood, and looked down upon due to white privilege and preconceptions also creates a divide and causes people to avoid addressing the elephant in the room. And let us not forget the neglect of the Native American story and how society as a whole, both white and black, does not address the inequality, harsh biases, and often forgetfulness of their whole existence.
We as a people need to start sitting down with our colleagues and peers and sharing our stories and life experiences. Speak about your misunderstandings and don’t judge others when they’re attempting to grasp the meaning of your experiences but cannot quite understand due to their own life experiences. The reason why conversations about race are so important is simple. Not talking about race only further creates and reinforces stigmas towards one another. Now I am not saying just ask any random black or white person, or any one of another race and ethnicity, a question because we all know not everyone is open or willing to have these conversations. I am simply saying that it is okay to express your anger, doubts, fears, and even misunderstandings towards other races in an educated, calm, and nonjudgmental setting. Will it be challenging to hold back one’s feelings and transgressions, yes, but don’t let that keep you from sharing experiences. My classmates and I learn in our program to not only challenge one another, but ourselves; to listen, process, and grow from hearing others share their experiences. We are taught to do this in a respectful manner because it does help to make a difference in the growth of understanding others by redefining our biases and preconceptions and becoming more self-aware. On that note, I leave you with this question. How can students learn if teachers are unwilling to teach? Oh, and if you find yourself still too afraid to ask, just use Google. You will find all the answers you need; just make sure it’s a reliable source.