I need to talk about race

I don’t want to talk about race.  It makes me uncomfortable, angry and ashamed.  Every single strand of truth on the subject is heavy with conflict.  Taken together it all forms a bitter tangle that is honestly more than I can handle. It also happens that I am in no position to talk on the side of struggle and have zero desire to engage in the kinds of contorted arguments that I know are aimed at nothing more than freeing my own white conscience from its burden.

I can see that I live in a nation that views the horrors of slavery as nothing more than an old fever, long since medicated by the 13th amendment and the civil rights act.  This though I can also see how fully absurd it is to think that a people can be intentionally broken, the entirety of a culture systematically destroyed, and then left, resource-less, to figure out a way to rebuild within an environment that continues to be hostile.  I can see how many people like to talk about the success of the immigrants who arrive with absolutely nothing and yet come to thrive in short order.  And I am speechless to respond to anybody who thinks that a strong culture and family ties constitute as nothing.

I can see the way that things are disintegrating around me.  I read the news.  I see the crime.  I feel the hostility.  I fear the guns.  And I don’t want to talk about it.  But there is one sentiment that I continue to encounter that I’m afraid I just can’t ignore.  It is the sentiment of deep despair that follows time and again with the words “but I just don’t know what can be done” that brought me here to do exactly the thing that I don’t want to do: talk about race.

Because there is a hell of a lot that can be done.  We could do what we should have done a long time ago: put together a real plan to rebuild a (deliberately) broken community.  And we could do this without spending an extra penny in tax dollars because those countless millions that we are spending on policing, criminal justice and imprisonment, those same millions that have done nothing to improve the situation and plenty to make it worse, could be funneled into community building.  Even just a fraction of that budget could be redirected toward schools, clinics, recreation and job training.  And we could begin right now.

But there are problems.  In order to do any of this we probably have to admit the very uncomfortable fact that none of the money that we are currently spending, whether in government programs or criminal justice, is actually aimed at strengthening African American communities.  And we have to accept that there is truly nothing that can be done that will provide results in a politically acceptable timeline.  Our current predicament took generations to create and will take generations to repair.

Nothing about this situation is easy.  And we don’t have a hell of a lot of power to affect change as individuals of any color.  But we can start by deciding that something can be done.  And we can engage in a conversation about real ways to start that doing.

And, painful though it may be, that means that we have to talk about race.

 

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3 thoughts on “I need to talk about race

  1. I admit to feeling a pretty powerful sense of “I am too small and ignorant and tied up in my own trivial affairs to be anything but helpless” right now, especially after reading two articles in row about disparate topics (congressional redistricting! the current president of Afghanistan!) both of which make the point that large corporations are powerful obstacles to change… But your whole “do something, even if it’s small”, to paraphrase you grossly, attitude has been a real game changer for me, so I am trying to do small things. I’m currently reviewing the materials for my big intro class, and am deliberately building some talk about race and class in. It’s been there in a modest way before, but I’m going further, even to the point of talking about some of the recent studies on guns:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20731499
    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0077552
    Which has the potential to make people really mad, so I’ll have to handle it in a respectful way.

    The best thing the study of the mind ever did for me was to remove any sense that I know my own motivations and decision making processes. Uh, NO. The unconscious mind is amazing. Racism and classism are terribly pervasive, and our our barriers are to recognizing these distasteful parts of ourselves are so strong, and, sadly, the strongest in those who have the most to lose. Anyway, I would love to know more about how you are going to fight off the helplessness.

  2. No one wants to talk about it the world over, but we all need to. It is not unsolvable but the politicians would have us believe it is. No politician wants to put money into social projects it doesn’t get them votes as the results are too slow. It is a ticking bomb.

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