The Unsexy Race Talk: Part 2

I just finished speaking at three different seminars for SPU’s freshman orientation, the topic of which being how vital racial and cultural competency is not only within the walls of SPU, but life in general. And as I sit here looking back on everything I said, recalling the faces of students in response to my daring words, I’m hit with the choking truth that discussing the topic of race is extremely difficult. There are dozens of factors one has to be attentive to, with every sentence – every word – harboring the potential to offend individuals, or come back to plague you with regret. Moreover, I wasn’t just talking to white kids; I was talking to people who were black, Pilipino, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, and a mixture of many other races and cultures. Perhaps the hardest part, though, was that when I brought up topics of racial identity, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was stacking another reality atop all their other issues of trying to fit in on these first days of school.

In the end, and based on perceptions of the audience in addition to post-lecture conversations, I believe I pissed off some people of color and unsettled some white kids. How’s that for humbling a self-proclaimed advocate for racial reconciliation?

The discussion has to start somewhere, though. And despite my failures, I know I at least gave one girl direction on what she wants to study in school (sociology, yes!), and provided affirmation to a half-Chinese, half-white guy who has struggled all his life in treading the balance of a mixed racial identity. This is why conversations need to be had – because conversation about race in America is shoved under the rug, tabooed, and ultimately leaving people uncomfortable in their own skin. Nobody should have to walk on egg shells because their everyday reality is stigmatized by an inescapable culture. People have been suffocating too long, and it’s finally time to step up.

So what do we do?! Waha, the long awaited question. I’d be a fool to think I had the answer(s), but I have a few ideas based on what I know has aided me these past few years.

1)      Open your ears, tighten your tongue, and repeat: Everybody has a story. And we all want to tell it. That’s a natural want, and one I would encourage anybody to pursue. But what does it look like to listen to another’s story before your own. Not only that, but what does it mean to discover someone else’s story with them, instead of seeking your own. I’m speaking to all you white people now – your individual story may have started at birth, but you have a venerated prelude that can be read about in the history books. What about that black friend? Where is their prelude? I have some African-American friends who don’t know what part of Africa they came from but are extremely curious. There’s an adventure to be had. And I’m sure that throughout the process I’ll be learning a lot more about their present experience as a black person in America, as well.

2)      Rethink Homogeny: It’s going to be uncomfortable, but you’ll be better for it. Try out other churches that aren’t predominantly white and have dissimilar worship styles. Periodically alternate your musical tastes. Shop at ethnic grocery stores. Ride the bus through low-income neighborhoods or city centers. Read autobiographies from people of color. Embrace the cultural differences of all of these. If you seek to live vibrantly, search for the nuance before succumbing to the caveat.

3)      Assumptions and Stereotypes: This one is real simple. Even if stereotypes are typically true, they are always incomplete. So before throwing out terms like “black culture,” think about how you would feel about being labeled under “white culture.” Most people correlate Americans to being white, and as such, oftentimes white people are then assumed to be nationalistic. ‘Merica. I’d sooner throw up before accepting the label of a nationalist simply because I’m white. The same goes for one of my black friends. She hates hip-hop, but people assume she loves the stuff because she’s black. So that’s why we ask each other questions before assuming we already know the answer. Not many people enjoy being boxed anyway.

Please ask questions, challenge my thoughts, and dialogue with me. I love talking about this topic and hopefully as shown, I seek to expose others to it as much as possible.

Lastly, here is a quote by Gary Younge, an author of Who Are We, a book published this year and one I read this summer:

“Easy decisions take no courage at all. Most of us grow into our identities as easily as acorns do into oaks – rarely questioning, resisting or protesting those events that do not appear to affect us directly. It is the difficult decisions, the ones that have consequences, challenge orthodoxies, bear risks and threaten status, that take real courage.”


~ by Chris Kyle on September 23, 2011.

One Response to “The Unsexy Race Talk: Part 2”

  1. Bro. You’ve got lots of humility and honesty. People will get pissed off and uncomfortable about things, but I think that’s part and parcel with engaging with such a taboo topic. Keep it coming man. You’re doing great.

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