Thursday, September 26, 2019

More productive conversations on race

I must do a little introspection and point out that it is slightly "cute" that I am recommending Ijeoma Oluo's So You Want to Talk about Race (2018). It's not cute because the book's topic or author.

It just might be a little cute that this white boy is recommending it after Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Oluo's book is much different than those two. I find it "messier," but I'm not trying to be negative. A lot of our feelings toward race are emotional, sometimes changing and contradictory. Conversations on race can be messy.

Oluo leans into popular dialogues that come up by race by starting each chapter with a question, like, "I just got called a racist. What do I do?" and "Why can't I say the 'N' world?"

It's candid, straight talk, and to me, the book underscores a huge problem. White people have the ability, or luxury, to avoid thinking about race and conversing about it. I guess I can't go back in time, but I would have liked to be more educated on race earlier. But the thing about race, from a white perspective, is that you actually have to seek out an education on the topic or you remain ignorantly white.
A huge point that Oluo makes in the book is about systemic racism that has been a part of our country since the arrival of white settlers. It is built into our institutions and behavior. We are all part of a racist country and system, so if we are "racist" or not, the bigger issue is to understand the racist institutions of our country.

The question I ponder is that as white male: How do I use my white privilege to help the cause? Well, here are at least three things this white guy has come up with. 1) Accept the fact that I am limited. I have a white male perspective; that cannot change. I have benefited in many regards because of my race, and I should at least recognize this.

2) Embrace conversations on race and listen more than talk. I often act like I have all the answers all the time, and I do not, especially with race. Feelings vary on the topic as do our backgrounds, and these feelings are valid. I will never validate hate from white people toward other races, but I understand that a gamut of emotions comes up with race talk.

3) Try to understand the entire cultural context of a person. The good news about where I work I teach is that the student white population is only 5 percent, so we have a lot of students with much different backgrounds and cultures. This matters. It is hugely important to not assume middle America TV culture on others. That was my culture. It's not everybody's.

1 comment:

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