Race Talk

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Prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping—whether overt or implicit—are alive and unfortunately well. Sue’s research and observations are included in his most recent publication Race Talk And The Conspiracy of Silence (Wiley, 2015, 2016) in which he challenges us to push through racial dialogue, especially in today’s climate of overt expressions of bias. Do this, he says, even though it can be upsetting.

How races come together

We know from social-psychological research the principles that lead to reduction of prejudice and discrimination. One of them is that we have to have intimate contact with people that we hope to understand. We have to have mutually shared goals. We have to have the ability of what I call equal status relationships between individuals in order to be able to begin to feel again that we’re one another.

What we are experiencing in the United States is a worldwide phenomenon that we’re witnessing in Europe as well. ‘I don’t care about other groups,’ that we have to ‘protect borders,’ and these borders are not just physical but psychological. We need to get people to realize that we are connected to one another and that the ultimate outcome of this splitting and segregation is that our society as a nation will deteriorate.

To Those Who Say, Give It Time, A Chance, And That It Will Be OK.

What we are witnessing now is scary. We aren’t moving in a positive direction.

The people who are quick to normalize it are those people who have power and privilege. They do not understand the social, cultural and psychological significance that people of color and other marginalized groups in our nation experience as [they] are saying that things will be OK.

Well, things aren’t OK with us now and there are whole groups that are suffering. We see this going on with indigenous people at Standing Rock, where Native American people are feeling that their spiritual and sacred lives are at risk. Their physical lives are at risk.

The Black brothers and sisters indicate—you know, with the Black Lives Matter movement—that our society is saying that Black lives don’t matter. It may not say it specifically, but it is operating under the impression that some lives are worth more than others, and it is White lives that are worth more.

You frequently hear this invalidation that goes on when people say “Black lives matter.” You hear our political leaders say, “Well, all lives matter.” What they don’t realize is that they are dismissing, diluting and negating the primary message that is coming out from Black brothers and sisters that the way that our society operates, and how people operate is that our lives are worth less than White brothers and sisters in this nation.

Even when we try to point out to them that Black men are being killed—I mean this deadlocked jury—one juror—[in the trial of North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slagle for killing Walter Scott] indicates that no matter what people of color do the judgment and the decision hurts them.

It’s a false assumption and false attempt to calm people by saying that things will be OK, because the truth is, things aren’t OK. They haven’t been OK for centuries.

Work To Unveil Implicit Bias

That’s why I did all this work on micro-aggressions because well-intentioned White brothers and sisters don’t realize that that are complicit in engaging in actions and behaviors that harm people of color through micro-aggressions. And, as long as it is invisible to them, they can go on with their lives in innocence and naivete’ as though they had nothing to do with it.

How The Struggle Births Strength

As people of color we have always struggled. Racism is a reality in our lives. It’s a constant, omnipresent. What we need to realize is to look at the history of our brothers and sisters of color in terms of how they have struggled and overcome and realize that we have assets, that we are not in the struggle by ourselves. Each and every one of us has to find the motivating factor.

I went through a period in my life when I felt hopeless, like what am I doing if it won’t change? My salvation was that fact that on an individual level I do affect some people. But the thing that makes me continue the struggle, despite my belief that racism will never end, is that I want to do the right thing.

Having ‘The Talk’ With Someone Of Another Race

All racial discussions are clumsy and awkward, and push powerful emotional buttons in people. When you’re having a good racial discussion with people, people are experiencing anger, anxiety, sadness, defensiveness and so forth. So, all of those indicate that you’re moving in the right direction. But you have to get beyond the feelings. Because the feelings, unless you understand them, block actual touching of minds.

Let me give an example of White students who originally did not understand and feel defensive because they feel blamed by students of color when they engage in a racial dialogue. It takes a long time for them to come to the realization that they are privileged; that they are putting up defenses. They don’t really want to see what racism is because ultimately they have to acknowledge to themselves that they have racial biases and behaved in ways that hurt and harmed others.

That is a major obstacle to overcome and it takes long discussions where you continue to provide challenges but support for others to come to the realization. But once they get to that level of realization they are likely to be overwhelmed with feelings of guilt.

What you try to do is tell them, ‘I acknowledge your guilt is legitimate, but guilt doesn’t help the situation.’ ‘But you can deal with that guilt if you become a valuable ally with us in terms of dealing with the disparities that are present in our everyday lives.’

I usually get to that point if I’m allowed to work with the class over an extended period of time. To think that you can have a dialogue for five minutes and achieve the goal is a falsehood. This is a long term soul-searching that many of my White brothers and sisters need to go through.

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Author, Columbia University Professor and Researcher Derald Wing Sue

CARMELA MONK-CRAWFORD, editor of Message Magazine, interviewed Derald Wing Sue for this article.

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