Developing Comfort With Discussing Race Boldly; Publicly and Privately
This week was a very long, emotionally compelling and interesting week. During a discussion with one of my colleagues it was asserted that talking about race can be uncomfortable in open space where multiple people are present (and listening), as well as 1-on-1.
The comment was spoken from the perspective of someone who is white. I found it interesting as it was not a suggestion or experience of which I could relate or agree. As I pondered the comment throughout the day and night, I was compelled to respond.
I share my response below, in hopes that others can be inspired to own their own truths, speak boldly with confidence from their own perspectives rather than attempting to be in solidarity to maintain the comfort of others at the expense of self and the collective racial group of which they belong; as well as offer a perspective to others who are black and brown who may need direction and inspiration to speak from and about the African, African American, and Black experience.
I hope this helps someone.
I hope this message finds you in good spirits. I wanted to follow-up about something you said in our discussion yesterday (and maybe we can discuss it more when we meet next).
While discussing the hearing, you stated that it's hard to talk about race publicly in front of a room full of people (or even interpersonally). I appreciate you sharing this view and want you to know that I hold it sacredly in its uniqueness; as it is spoken from your own experience.
I have a different experience and opinion.
As I pondered your view throughout yesterday and night I am compelled to respond with another consideration. From my experience and education, as well as what I have come to know about most other African Americans and Black people, it is not hard to talk about race, racism or Anti-Blackness.
Race (developed by our White, predominantly heterosexual-identified, male forefathers after 1676) was developed specifically as a social, political and economic ruling party/class with an agenda to advance "White-identified" people in all ways; at the expense of African and Native American people initially (and all other groups subsequently). As African American people, we were classified by White people as Negro (Mulatto, Quadroon, Octoroon and Darkies). White people classified African and African American people this way with great intent to oppress, vilify and terrorize us intentionally (mapped out decade by decade). African Americans in this country specifically, have suffered a great deal emotionally, symbolically, mentally - in utterly every way since pre-modern colonialism. I am not entirely aware of your background so please forgive me if you have a significant grasp on this subject; as it is not my intent to preach or teach (only to provide context for what I am about to share).
It is not hard to talk about race or racism interpersonally or publicly for me personally. Race and racism are an everyday lived experience amongst African-American-identified people. There is not one day of my life that aspects of race and racism are not present, experienced or mentioned amongst friends, family and relatives. It is acknowledged, recognized and named as part of my experience every day, as I presume being female is a part of yours.
I have also been fortunate enough to acquire education, additional knowledge, tools, competence, confidence and skills to effectively engage in issues about race, racism and Anti-blackness; through sustained study (as I was an African American Studies major in college) which propelled me onto a rigorous path of focus, to not only learn about how racism has impacted Black people, but how it also impacted and continues to impact "White-identified people" (in seemingly positive ways; yet very traumatic and terrifying ways), as well as all other racial and ethnic groups impacted by socialization founded on and through Whiteness, White Supremacy/Superiority, White Racism and Anti-Blackness. I do not assert this as an opinion, but as fact rooted in many years of significant documented research.
I submit to you that one is only uncomfortable discussing or talking about structural, institutional and symbolic White Racism (and it's severe impacts on African Americans - and the vast array of other racial and ethnic groups) if they, she, him - are not steeped in a strong and meaningful foundation; as well as have not endeavored into personal self-reflection to unpack their unique relationship to the topic (based on their own ethnic and racial identity including how they were raised, beliefs, ideologies, family ties, education, etc.). One needs to understand how it impacts them in order to begin to even engage the topic openly for themselves and others; especially on a professional stage.
It is most definitely a skill that is extremely necessary to possess in our present day and time, in order to be able to competently and effectively discuss and address race and racism as leaders in organizations.
Minimization of its existence, ignorance of its detrimental effects (and/or the denial of existence) has, and continues to serve and protect its existence historically maintaining comfort for those who have benefited it (predominantly people who are white and many other non-Black, non-African and African-American) while serving to marginalize and disenfranchise African American predominantly, and most other racial and ethnic groups who bear the burden of suffering in silence.
African, African American and most black people have a legacy of not naming "White" racism or Anti-Blackness in mainstream settings; but have been taught, socialized and groomed to suffer in silence. Historically (and even into the present times; though through more sophisticated and insidious retaliatory means) we were lynched, set on fire, raped, jailed and terrorized through many other forms of intimidation - openly and publicly with no recourse, for dare naming such experiences (which were motivations for our more modern civil rights expressions and movements). Therefore African Americans have a legacy of pain caused by immense suffering in silence. It is a part of the legacy and culture of African, African American and most other black and brown people.
As a collective, we must work together to develop racial literacy so that we can adequately and effectively engage racial concerns and conflicts which I submit to you are a part of our everyday cross-racial experiences and interactions.
We will remain at an impasse and things will only continue to be difficult, painful, terrorizing, oppressive, vilifying, marginalizing and murderous for African American and most Black and Brown people if we do not educate ourselves and again experience in this realm.
Racism and Anti-blackness have killed and continue to kill African and African American people for centuries and decades in this country; and for the most part we have had to bear this burden alone. We can no longer bear it alone and we should not have to bear it alone.
I look forward to following-up about this at a later time.
Thank you for following-up, and engaging my thoughts as an African American gay Male with a differing perspective.