“I don’t get it. Why do we need to be talking about race?” a commenter wrote on a LinkedIn group on diversity and inclusion. In her high school, “everyone got along great and we actually looked down on those who were prejudiced against one race over another.” So she can’t figure what the big issue is right now.
Her authentic comment is just the reason we need to keep discussing – and dealing with race. We each see issues through our own personal prism. That prism is formed by our life’s experiences that include our race, ethnicity, and religion, but also factors such as our family structure and where we grew up, right down to the neighborhood we called home.
President Obama did a courageous job of helping white people to understand what it feels like to be a Black man in this country, even as we are making strides every day. It is the great benefit of having an African-American president. In fact, what is the point of the historic election of a Black man if not to breathe a new perspective into the job.
I see issues every day in my work strengthening diverse schools, workplaces, and communities. I have been brought to tears by the ugly actions of a high school faculty that I worked with in upstate New York that refused to face the bias, unconscious and conscious, that was impacting the lives of students every day in their community. I watch parents of color be disrespected and devalued because they don’t speak perfect English or they don’t have a degree. Believe me, there is much going on in this country that we need to recognize and deal with, or the divide among rich and poor, Black and white, immigrant and US-born will continue to grow.
We need to keep talking, honestly and authentically. Not at the political level, as the president rightly said, but at the personal level. We need to talk to our neighbors, our colleagues, the people we see at our houses of worship or on the soccer field waiting for kids to finish practice – particularly those who are not “just like us.” And the big point – be open to what they have to say. Make it a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s how we’ll move forward as a country.