Every day is Groundhog’s Day when it comes to conversations about race.
This is to be expected. People come to me looking for answers. I co-founded a project to promote healthy and productive conversations about race in the United States. I frequently write about race and culture. I have many white friends who are confused about the volatile, conflicting, and contentious conversations about race.
However, I am having the same three to five conversations with white people for whom this is all new. My patience is razor-thin and I’m on the verge of cutting people. To save us all time and assault charges, here are some basic questions and answers.
Q: Why can’t we have Confederate monuments? We need to preserve our history. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean we need to remove it.
A: There have been Fifty-Eleventy “think pieces” written about this in the past two weeks. Go read them. My quick take: African American children should not have to play in parks or attend schools named after people who enslaved and sold their ancestors. You want history? Read a book. I heard those things last for-ever.
Q: How can this happen in 2017? Or “This is terrible, but now white supremacists are exposed and we can fight them.”
A: As Terri Coleman, also known as Sophistaratchet Blackademic, said in the video series, “What’s Underneath,” “We have known this deeply. It’s been proven to us again and again and again. We have tried to shout it, but you have chosen not to hear.”
Q: Not necessarily a question. But in response to any response that includes “finding the beauty in all people” or “love and light.”
A: Racism isn’t a “trick of the mind.” It is an ingrained, learned, willful response. “Light-washing” is a slick, defense used by some white women in which they deflect all personal responsibility for examining racism within themselves, their families, and their communities by kicking it over to the spiritual plane. The universe deals with it, so they won’t have to.
While we’re on this earthly plane, I need people of color to be able to move freely and safely in public spaces; a learning environment that works for all children, especially black and brown ones since they are the most likely to be shortchanged by public education; for white people to acknowledge the historic and current wrongs; and then for us all to work together to ensure America lives up to its promise.”
Q: Why can’t I be proud to be white? Black people can be proud to be black. Gay people have a pride parade. What’s wrong with being proud of my heritage?
A: ::Long exasperated sigh followed by an intense desire to stab the questioner:: My “black is beautiful” does not require creating an ethno-state. My pride in my family, history, and heritage does not come with implicit or explicit violence to others. I am proud, but I don’t expect entire government, social, and financial institutions to uphold my ego by oppressing others. Be proud as you want. Just leave me and mine alone.
I am not angry at white people for asking questions. However, some of the endless questioning is a stall tactic. The more we talk, the less we have to make tough decisions and act.
One of the problems about current conversations about race in the United States is that the “solution” involves hoping white people will voluntarily give up privileges and entitlements they and their families have had knowingly or not for generations. However, as Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will.”
I am not interested in having binary conversations with white people about race based on position statements. I am, however, intensely interested in having creative conversations based on possibility statements.
Here’s where the “love and light” business can actually shed some light. The universe is abundant. There are infinite possibilities. We can use our creative imaginations, employ practical strategies, and work hard toward a vision of shared economic and social progress. We can create a world in which we are stronger together because the sum of our diversity is greater than the division of our hatred. That’s a conversation worth having.