Talking about race

racism word cloudWe need to have a serious discussion about race. Because believe it or not, not talking about race is not going to end racism; it is going to perpetuate complicity in a racist system. It’s not making you “colorblind” or stopping you from putting any stock in race, it’s just stopping you from being able to reason around race. Think about it:

By refusing to acknowledge the existence of the privileges and burdens of race, you are not negating their existence; you are negating your understanding of the world. Unless you still haven’t mastered object permanence, you should know better than to think that pretending you can’t see something makes it disappear; closing your eyes doesn’t make it stop existing any more than saying Peekaboo fools anyone. So, “not talking about it” is deluding yourself that it doesn’t happen, not stopping it from happening… which makes it intentional ignorance: you are purposefully deceiving yourself and voluntarily choosing not to see the world as it is.

Your intentional ignorance can lead to inadvertent ignorance for other people… and then they may easily fall victim to believing racial tropes and stereotypes. It sets an example that can justify for some people the validity of the view that talking about race perpetuates racism. And this is especially true for kids. Your kids learn primarily from you; they inherit from a very young age your world view. And if that world view doesn’t encompass problems of race, it abdicates that responsibility to the child and to the child’s other teachers, even if those teachers aren’t the best. You owe it to your child; they can’t see past something they don’t understand.

Ignorance (of a problem) is only bliss if you have the privilege of not needing a solution to that problem. But when the problem is a daily impediment to your functioning as an individual, then it’s not exactly plausible for you to pretend it doesn’t exist. Your ability to refuse to talk about it is proof that racism is real and ever-constant, not the other way around.

By ignoring the struggles of an underprivileged race, you belittle and dismiss the struggles of an entire group of people, as if saying that one of the biggest fights of their life is beneath you and not really worth much to you. It’s not easy to constantly look back at your past and wonder which of your highs and lows were because of your pigmentation- especially the highs. To constantly second guess every success you’ve had because it might have just been that they were trying to meet a quota. I highly encourage you to read a rather eye-opening article “15 Questions White Folks Never Have to Ask Themselves” for more on this topic.

Just talking to members of your own race about the shared struggles you face isn’t enough. Talking about race is not reserved for minorities. To make change, there has to be compromise; and that means involving people from underprivileged and privileged groups. You have to have power and support to make change, and while one may lead to the other, neither can occur without the strength of the majority.

When I say “talk about race,” I also don’t mean just accusing people of racism or using a lack of racial privilege as an excuse. All that does is make it more difficult to have a lucid, intelligent conversation about race and give it a bad reputation in society. There are ways to have constructive dialogues about race that don’t just point fingers at privileged groups; as I said earlier, change is a collaborative effort. So somewhere along the way other people than just the “privileged” bought into the racist system too, which allowed it to flourish. So rather than blaming somebody for the privileges of their whiteness or ignoring the “invisible package of unearned assets” we are (or aren’t) granted merely by melanin levels, we need to acknowledge the privileges and inspire one another to strive for racial equality at the individual level. And that’s something for everyone: whites, blacks, browns, pinks, and oranges. More here.

We can’t change a problem that we refuse to acknowledge exists, and at it’s core, that’s exactly what not talking about race is. It’s not teaching ourselves to see people rather than color; it’s not dismantling race as a social construct; it’s not even helping us be “colorblind.” People argue that if “we just stop pointing out race” then the whole “race issue” will go away and “people will be equal.” But when we have reached the point where racism has been institutionalized (and then deinstitutionalized) and socialized to the point that we’re still wondering whether to talk about racial privilege, then we’ve gotten past the point where just not labeling somebody by their race will stop people being defined by their race.