Talking about race: Is there any other way to bring about change?
When I considered joining the cast of writers participating in the Race 2012 blogging project hosted by Monica’s Tangled Web, I had to think carefully about what it was I wanted to say as it pertains to race and politics. As the white parent of a Black child, I come to the table with a unique-ish experience; there are endless opportunities to write, dissect, present, discuss, address, argue, and advocate.
I should say here that race is a part of my life in a way that it isn’t for most white people who have the privilege of talking about race or, sadly, not talking about it. This is not an option for people of color, and it’s not an option for people who have adopted children of color, regardless of color. I wrote in June about an incident that led to a discussion with our young child about the N-word, a chat we realized should have had much sooner. It goes without saying that I don’t know one white family who has had this talk over breakfast. Just yesterday, we had the occasion to explain to our child what it meant to be tarred and feathered. Indeed, it is no easy task to look into the eyes of a child and describe a method of brutalization used against her people.
Not a single morning passes without me having contemplated race before I’ve had my first cup of coffee; I don’t pass the Hispanic woman cleaning windows at my gym without thinking about immigrants; I don’t thank the woman wearing a hijab, who bags my groceries, without thinking about bigotry; never do I kiss my daughter on her forehead at the end of the day without thinking about her future as a Black woman.
I am a member of the privileged white class whose numbers are dwindling (have you watched Race 2012 yet? How about America By The Numbers?). Still, white remains the barometer of all that is normal, the yardstick against which everyone of any other skin color is compared and like most of my white counterparts, I’ve had it easy. Thanks to my blended family, I’ve also had an awakening. I’ve always held the same fundamental beliefs, but before Ruby, I was a toddler on the spectrum of understanding. As a Black friend of mine lovingly likes to say, I’m now an angry Black teenager. I quite like that.
So. My problem writing each post for Race 2012 isn’t lack of topics or angles. Race issues always come back around to politics. One cannot watch our president on a stage next to Mitt Romney and not think about race and what that means to them. One cannot watch The Choice: 2012, a Frontline special on the candidates, and not see the struggle for identity that defines Obama, and the lack of a comparable experience in his opponent. To pretend not to see it, is to not talk about it. And not talking about it doesn’t help us move toward a more equitable and just America.
Fortunately, people are choosing to do it, even when it scares them. One of my fellow bloggers, Sarah Auerswald, wrote a very honest piece today about being afraid to talk about race, even as she has decided to blog about it. Writer Stephanie Spencer (not involved in this project, but someone who could be) also wrote a come-to-Jesus piece on her blog about becoming aware of her white privilege. The angst in both posts is palpable and relate-able and their willingness to admit their fears and failings as they confront issues of race is precisely what needs to be happening right now.
I said it in an earlier piece, that that the election of a Black president has provided inspiration for people of color all across this country. A friend of mine told me during dinner one night last month, that Obama has shown her son “that there is another way to be a Black man.” This is significant in ways that nearly defy description. But one of the greatest gifts bestowed on our country by the election of Barack Obama, has been the giant spotlight it has focused on racism, small and large. As it happens, having a Black man in the White House (which was built by slaves, by the way) has served to bring racists out in daylight, away from the shadows of political correctness and out from behind the armor of the long-accepted myth of colorblindness. Barack Obama may be reticent to talk about race—and for arguably good reasons: he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t—but he’s been a great conduit for the rest of us.
People of color have been engaged in real talks about race for generations. It’s time white people started doing the same, even if it is scary and uncomfortable. I wonder: What are you doing reader, to talk about race in your life? Are you talking about? Are you fighting for justice and equality? Are you, too, in the angry black teenager stage? Because I’d like there to be more of us.