Want change? Leave your silo.

A little over five years ago, I was trying to find myself professionally and after working with a life coach to gain some clarity about what I should be doing with my life, I started this blog. Over the years, my goals for this space have continued to shift but there are two absolutes about this space, it will never work as a money making venture and I excel at tackling the tough topics in this space. I suppose the reason it will never work as a money making venture is because finding corporate sponsors when you are talking race and life just don’t mix. Tis life!

I often wonder if I am spending too much time talking about the uncomfortable issues such as race. Then I come across tidbits like this where I realize maybe I do need to keep talking, in hopes that my talking will get others talking and more importantly actually doing.

A whopping 40% of White Americans do not have friends of different races and 25% of non-White Americans do not have friends of different races. People, we have a problem! These stats go a very long way in explaining why we can’t have consensus around racial matters.  How can we understand one another when we don’t even know each other?

The problem with living in our own private silo where everyone is just like us is that, we miss out on being able to hear a diverse array of voices and experiences. Instead we filter every event and action through our own lens and the lens of people who are just like us. Inevitably this leads to problems because the world is bigger than any one of us.

Even when we acknowledge that we are in our private silo but we claim to want change, we cannot create that change in a world of people who are just like us. Case in point, I came across thisarticle today on my Facebook feed that was being shared amongst my liberal, educated white acquaintances. These are people who I believe have good hearts and they truly want to create change, hell this piece is written by someone who wants to create change but once again how can you really make that happen when you stay in your own orb?

Let me just say that as a parent and specifically the parent of non-white beings, I appreciate hearing that white parents are discussing race with their kids. But…you knew that was coming. If you wait until your kids are 7, 8, or beyond, it’s too late. It really is. Discussions about differences need to start before the age of 5, kids are smart, savvy and really they get it. Children often see what we don’t see but more important that that they see what we do. If all you are doing is talking about race and instructing your child on how all people are equal yet the only people you are surrounded by are people just like you, you are missing the boat. Eventually kids grow up and they notice that for all our talk, we are not actually living our values.

Living in Maine, over the years I have met many well-meaning people who have said that they wish they knew more people of different races, ethnicities and sexual orientations. But it is hard to accomplish living in Maine. Sure it is, but it’s not impossible and truth be told even in large cities like my hometown, plenty of people still choose to stay in their self-designed bubble where they live, work and love only with people who are just like them.

The thing is, creating a world where all are valued and respected equally requires a willingness to get raggedy, and it means working hard. It’s more than a conversation here and there; it’s more than following Black writers and academics online and musing theoretically. It’s about actually taking all of that and applying it to real life and sometimes fucking up so badly that feelings may even get hurt. Yet you try again, and again. It’s about letting your kids see that you really do value what you say you value. It’s more than talk, it’s action and the first step is leaving your silo.

 

 

Honesty and Race..how honest can we be?

Today’s post is inspired by a local buddy of mine, who had a Facebook status update that said “Most white people are too scared of appearing racist to be honest”. I must admit this has stuck with me since reading it and I thought maybe it would make for a good discussion on race. By the way to the friend whose status update inspired this, I hope you don’t mind that I stole your thought as inspiration for this post.

Now I must admit I am of mixed feelings when I think about this because the truth is as a society I don’t think we are mature enough overall to have true dialogues on race. Yet the bigger question is how do we get there? Personally I can say that being part of an interracial marriage for over a decade has inspired many discussions on race. For me there is no way to be married to a white man without discussing race. Is it a stumbling block for us? Yes and no. There are times when we clearly bring who we are to an issue, and have to sometimes agree to disagree. Though many times the Spousal Unit will admit, that in being partnered to me and part of raising biracial kids that he has had to leave the comfort of his white male privilege to really get an issue. I also can say that sometimes I am inspired to put down my own assumptions about whites and understand his perspective.

I think for me when it comes to racial discussions, especially those that occur between whites and blacks in the United States, that too many times the white perspective is seen as right and the black perspective is not viewed as valid. One only has to look around in the blogosphere to see examples of this, hell Beer Gate this summer with the Cambridge cop and Professor Gates showed how differently we view the world. For many whites, Gates was either a pompous ass professor or the victim of unfortunate circumstances, with a fair number of whites not seeing the situation as that big of a deal.

Yet on the Black side, we saw it as a huge deal, just one more example of the systematic bullshit that happens when you are Black in America. If you think I am kidding, ask yourself why a sitting president of the United States felt compelled to speak up? Because while Barack Obama may be the president he has spent enough years as a Black man in America to understand that what happened to Gates is just routine business as usual and all the degrees and money don’t stop you from feeling the weight of oppression and bullshit when you are Black.

I think that by and large honesty is a good thing but I think in order to get honest, whites need to be willing to temporarily relinquish their privilege at least mentally and attempt to have empathy. If that does not happen, then you are not going to have a real discussion.

My viewpoint for me is supported by the fact that personally the best interactions I have with white people tend to be with working class, lower class and blue collar whites. Those that the only privilege they often have is white skin, I could go on and one with anecdotal stories about connecting with whites who initially I am nervous around because they look scary to me, in many cases I admit and its my bias that white men with shaved heads that look like skinheads or bikers scare me. Yet just last night I was out and came across such a man at a local eatery and ended up having a delightful conversation.

I admit that sometimes such folks can be scary but I also think that for some of these folks they are aware they don’t have much privilege aside from white skin and in some cases its easier to make a connection.

For Blacks I have to say if we want to engage in an honest dialogue that we too may need to put aside some of our bias and assumptions when it comes to whites though I admit it can be hard.

Yet I will say that in the quest to be honest with one another, it’s also important to be respectful. Take the age old issue of Black hair, yes my hair is different and its ok if we are friends to ask about it but remember I am a human and that maybe being singled out does not make me feel comfortable.

So while honesty is a possibility and there are plenty of whites and black engaging in honest and real discussions, we need to enter them being thoughtful before they can proceed.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue!