The Race Conversation

raceconversation“Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.” ~Lyndon B. Johnson

I never really cared about race, but race was always concerned with me. Maybe because I was born black, or perhaps because I was born in this country, or probably both. Definitely both. There’s just something to be said about being that “other” that is contrasted with the majority, that absence of color when compared with the presence of all color. I mean, that’s what white is, right? The presence of all color. So why isn’t it all-inclusive? And why should any of it matter anyway?

The United States has been characterized as this great big “melting pot,” where people from all backgrounds and ethnicities are welcome and appreciated, as this giant quilt that stitches people together and creates something new and incredible from each pattern. Yet more often than not it is instead a middle school lunchroom with its cliques and ostracizing behavior. Now, while race isn’t the only dividing line, it is still one of the thickest. And I don’t think I’ll ever understand why.

But that’s a conversation for another time.

What’s important to me at this exact moment is my children having to deal with these issues without really understanding them. So, my wife and I are committed to teaching both of them what it means to be biracial, to have two distinct histories to draw upon and to embrace as their own. As they begin third grade and kindergarten respectively, it’s time they got the full picture of the sides that really do make up this race conversation. Because they’ll encounter all of the sides sooner rather than later in the pressure cooker that is elementary school, where the ratio of white to black is overwhelming.

Here are the sides as I see them:

  1. The Blind Side. People on this side often say “I don’t see race,” and they probably mean well, except believing that phrase blocks out the history that is important to each race.
  2. The Assimilation Side. These folks often talk about embracing all cultures. They can most often be found wearing kinte cloth and own their own personal Qu’ran. They find out everything they can about all cultures they come in contact with and strive to be PC with each one.
  3. The Avoidance Side. These are your garden variety racists who see nothing except for race. They aspire to be accepted by the race they believe they fit the definition of, and they avoid all other races as much as they possibly can.
  4. The Ignorant Side. These are the uninformed, who only know what their parents have told them about other races, which isn’t much. They are quiet because they don’t know how to approach others who are different, not because they have any issues with them. They are often mistaken for Avoiders but they don’t fit that mold at all.

The vast majority of people I’ve come in contact with are on the Ignorant Side. They have no problems with other races. They just haven’t come in contact with many, and they don’t know how to approach without seeming dumb. There are a lot of them in areas where the ratio is as overwhelming as it is in our school district. What’s the best way to help them get past the ignorance? Initiate a conversation.

And it starts at home. I’m not saying it’s easy, either, but if the conversation doesn’t start at home it will start at school, and your child is more likely than not to run into an Avoider or someone with Blinders on than to meet and learn from an Assimilator. By that point it won’t really matter what you say at home. Their opinions have already been formed, and it takes an awful lot of friction to unstick those kinds of opinions once they’ve solidified.

It goes both ways too, because not only do white kids needs to be informed about other cultures, but kids who aren’t white need to be informed about those differences as well. And this information is not for the purpose of keeping us separated but instead for the breaking down of walls that we often don’t even acknowledge are there. I know that my children will come in contact with Avoiders. It’s unavoidable. But with the right conversation beforehand at home, they will know how to deal with them, and learn how to be proud of who they are as well.

Sam

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