How do we continue the conversation?

The day after the park incident, my co-worker and I continued the conversation about what had happened the day before. We even had a hard time dissecting race, class and privilege in America as we both have very different view points. She is a white woman and I am a black woman. We both care deeply about the kids and we both recognized yesterday as a very uncomfortable situation. She expressed that she as a white woman couldn’t relate to some other white people who are still uncomfortable with race. Where we differed in the conversation is when she said “We have to tell them to respect themselves so that other people can respect them.” While I agree with that notion, I disagreed with the fact that everyone who respects themselves gets the fair opportunity to be respected and viewed just like everyone else. My experiences as a black woman is much different from hers as a white woman in America. She couldn’t understand what I was saying or coming from because she grew up in a family that “didn’t see color.” We had a heated debate for a while and I felt myself getting upset but something beautiful came from that conversation. She reminded me and brought to light a situation I never thought about. A couple of weeks ago she accompanied me to a beauty supply store where everyone in the store was black. She said no one overtly made her feel uncomfortable or unwelcome but it was that unspoken thing like “what does this white girl know about black hair and beauty supplies.” I pondered on that for a long while and I really began to appreciate both of our experiences. We both have the same goal. We want our kids to be educated and respected in our America. Everyone doesn’t think like us though. So our collective burden is how do we continue the conversation in our boys and girls clubs, communities and even on a national level. I think through our conversation on the way to work we found that only through understanding and acceptance of EVERYONE’s struggle as real do we combat the unconformability of race in our country. We all feel it and we all must face it for change to ensue.

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4 thoughts on “How do we continue the conversation?

  1. Thanks for your frank and thoughtful comments on this and your previous post, Traci. In terms of comparing your and your coworker’s experiences, do you find it useful to talk about power? Who has it? Who doesn’t? Are the consequences of not feeling welcome or understood as a white person in a black business equivalent to the microaggressions and overt expressions of racism that black people face in pubic parks, neighborhoods, workplaces, and the many white-dominated spaces of the world? There might be a similar theme of feeling hurt or misjudged, granted. But I think the similarity ends there–given how white privilege allows white people, most of the time, to opt out of situations where we feel marginalized by race.

    Looking forward to more of your insights to come!

    • Dr Freeman,
      Thank you so much for these comments. You articulated exactly how I was feeling but I didn’t have the technical terms to describe it adequately. I think the problem that myself and other minorities face is that many people don’t see power and privilege as an issue. So when we are having these conversations and expressing these feelings we feel crazy because of the lack of acknowledgment. Like how do you have a useful and meaningful conversation if people can’t see their own privilege? Do i continue to sound like a broken record or the “angry black girl” because I recognize these things as a problem? Ive resolved that whatever comes with it, I have to continue to have these conversations and build upon them through education. I think this conversation really helped me to see her point of view though. Often times i just shut it off like white people can’t have genuine concerns about race; and I think that its wrong to think that. However, you’re right! The similarities do stop at us both genuinely feeling the hurt and unease.

      • One thing I really appreciate is that you were trying to have a real conversation with your coworker, rather than simply tell her the “correct” way to understand the issue. I think we have to be kind to ourselves when we enter into conversations like this one, whether we choose to engage fully or we back off without all the way getting into it. There are often good reasons (vulnerability, self protection, depleted energy, or even what we ate for lunch!) to hold back when talking about racism, white privilege, etc. On the other hand, when we’re motivated to have a true dialogue, it doesn’t do us any good if we remain quiet because we assume others won’t understand us or we assume they can’t handle having their ideas challenged.

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