Take a deep breath, the hard work of talking race in the US

I think it’s safe to say that tensions are running high across the United States this week. Between the relentless heat pounding parts of the country and the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, we are all feeling the tension and with that tension it brings hair trigger tempers. Can I suggest that we all step back and take a collective breath, breathe it out slowly and repeat at least two more times.

It used to be that the social code in our society demanded that there were a few subjects that we never discussed publicly namely, sex, religion, and politics. For some of the more sensitive or volatile among you, may I suggest that we add race to that list as well since we rarely discuss it in an open and honest fashion thus when cases such as Trayvon Martin make it to the mainstream media and our collective minds, many of us are all caught with our metaphorical pants down by our ankles and our private bits blowing in the wind.

At the not really ripe age of 40, I can recall one other specific time when race was on everyone’s mind yet true discussions were not really had…remember our ole pal O.J. Simpson? I remember the day that verdict was announced, I was eating lunch in a downtown Chicago steakhouse and was one of only a handful of Black patrons in the restaurant. It was a moment, I won’t ever forget. It was chilling.

Yet all these years later, despite so many surface changes when it comes to race in this country, nothing has really changed. For the most part, Americans live racially segregated lives either by choice or chance.  Unlike just a few decades ago where racism was the law of the land and outright bigotry was accepted, that is no longer the case. But while laws change, that doesn’t mean attitudes change, instead for many of us our bigotry is simply stuffed down and out of sight. We as a collective body have not unlearned racism; instead we painted over the ugly and unsightly wallpaper of our racial houses with cheap paint. Every few years we paint over it some more, telling ourselves that racism is gone and that all is well; our walls are in good shape. However as anyone who has ever dealt with painted over wallpaper can attest to, what you really do when you paint over the wallpaper rather than painstakingly removing the wallpaper and fixing the walls is to create a mess that eventually someone has to deal with.

In essence that is what this Trayvon Martin case has revealed to our nation, our racial walls are not in good shape, they are raggedy. Raggedy though is not always a bad thing, sometimes raggedy is what we need to get to the root and actually make true systemic change. In order though to be raggedy and make change we have to want it. As I learned in a diversity class many years ago in graduate school, we must be willing to open ourselves up and lay bare things about ourselves that are scary. We need to be willing to question our assumptions and if need be throw them in the garbage and start over from scratch.

This week, I have seen so many people of color namely Black people lay prostrate in order to be seen as fully human, I have also seen many white people get angry or ignore the pain of others. This unwillingness to engage even if there are missteps are part of why America finds itself in what I am calling a continual Do the Right Thing loop every decade or so.

Talking about race is hard, even in families such as mine that are multicultural; race talks are painful and at times polarizing. I am well aware that my use of social media to discuss race and specifically this case has been alienating to both my white friends and family members.  Last night my ex-husband called me to discuss this and while we do not see eye to eye about the case, as I told him he is entitled to his beliefs on the matter. Truthfully we are about 180 degrees apart on this case but I needed to hear him out and ask that he hear me out. Respectful discussions that respect the individual are the beginning of the process of change; not the tit for tat comparisons that often seem to substitute for real discourse in this ramped up digital age.

There also times when silence is not golden, and with a non-stop talker in my house, I enjoy silence but there are times when silence sends the signal that the pain of others is not worthy of your consideration. It is okay to admit to being helpless and not knowing what to do, but if one wants to create change when it comes to our collective racial walls, tell me that. Really, I want to hear it and as other mothers of color are expressing this week, they want to hear that too. This is a time where we can learn and help one another out, hell, I have a big mouth and plenty of thoughts I would be happy to give you some suggestions on what to do.

Note: As this blog grows it is clear that while it will never be a commercial space, it is a safe space where many feel they can come and read something meaningful. My inbox has far more emails in it than it used to have and it is clear that running this blog is more than just throwing a post up. After much though I have decided that I am going to bring the tip jar back, as always while a tip is a lovely gesture it is not expected but much appreciated. This space is a personal labor of love that I do because it gives me pleasure, so no pressure at all.

 

 

4 Comments
  1. July 19, 2013
    • July 19, 2013
  2. July 19, 2013
  3. September 30, 2013

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