February 10, 2008

Those "real" conversations again

Kietra Winn has a "Community View" article in today's News Journal which, among some confusing aspects, asks for those "real" conversations about race relations:

During the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday celebration in Wilmington, syndicated journalist Roland Martin challenged young people and adults to step outside their comfort zones and interact with people of other races to bridge the gap in cultural appreciation.

Both events left me wondering why is it so difficult for people to genuinely work at getting to know someone outside their own race. Is the notion of racial equality so taboo that most people think it should go away quietly, never to be spoken of?

[Wilmington lawyer Max] Bell, who is white, and Martin, who is black, are both right. The first step to improving race relations is willingness to step outside our comfort zones and be open to such difficult conversations. Dialogue starts the process of appreciating another person's journey.

Once understanding begins, acceptance of the other person eventually leads to unity.

As we've (Felix and I) oft written about at Colossus (for example here and here), this sounds very nice -- helpful, encouraging and kumbayah-ish; however, the reality is usually something quite different. These "dialogues" usually require whites to acknowledge their guilt, their privilege, their [latent] racism, etc. etc. etc., while any hard questions posed to minorities are met with disdain and anger.

[Black] Stanford Law professor Richard Thompson Ford realizes this. In his book The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse, he writes (my emphasis)

... when people talk about race relations, they too quickly try to ferret out racism without looking at the larger issues. In doing so, they leave open the possibility that opportunists will unfairly paint someone as a racist to further their political ends, while de-legitimizing some very real problems. I decided to write the book out of dismay and frustration with the way questions of racial injustice are typically taken up. Right now, we tend to deal with questions of race and race relations in the context of scandal. There's not much conversation about the day-to-day issues with racial tensions and injustices. (Link.)

But back to Ms. Winn. Here's where that confusion that I mentioned above comes into play:

In my work, I have the privilege of meeting intelligent young people who make me hopeful about the future and race relations. They are passionate about their issues. But without guidance, many go to great lengths, and at times resort to violence, to be heard. When their enthusiasm is channeled in the right direction, it can produce change agents and tomorrow's leaders.

For example, through her passion for cultural appreciation, a black female senior from Brandywine High School decided to volunteer regularly at Henry C. Conrad Middle School. During her first visit, she realized not all of the students shared the same appreciation for their culture. Some did not know much about their heritage.

The exceptions were obvious. Black, Puerto Rican and Dominican students were excited about their culture and wanted to share it with the rest of the class. With encouragement, Mexican students began to feel comfortable doing the same.

But what she found most disheartening was the majority of white students did not know their heritage, and were often ashamed of it.

Let's see -- after spending the first 3/4 of her column lamenting the all-too prevalent societal racism that still exists in American society, somehow black, Puerto Rican, Dominican and Mexican students are very excited about their culture ... all the while white students are embarrassed by theirs.

Is there some sort of disconnect here?

Posted by Hube at February 10, 2008 09:13 AM | TrackBack

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