Talking Race and Relationships: Deepening the Conversation

race080818_5_560“Hi.  I’m white.  You’re black.  Let’s be friends.”  This kind of introduction is too simple and superficial.  It’s also not realistic.

Relationships that begin or are connected to one’s racial identity will ultimately lack true feeling and are not rooted in reality but stuck in social temperatures that could go up or down, depending on the news cycle and the political season.  Getting to know someone on the basis of the social coloring of skin begins the relationship in stereotypes and low expectations, in fear, bias and inauthenticity.  (Note: We do not enter into relationships, establish friendships in order to appear “progressive” or to meet some type of social quota.)

race080818_4_560Race also rules the relationship and becomes a kind of third wheel, apart of all meetings.  We either talk about it all the time, whether through passive- aggressive comedy or debate or awkwardly avoid any mention of it.  It is a lingering threat that reminds us that we are never safe, that there is always the possibility for our relationship to be ruined by it.  And this must be said.

Deepening our conversations will require us disclosing our fears about race.  This is not to be confused with our feelings about each other.  As people are not races but human beings.

We must get it out.  Talk it out, these things that race has done to us.  We must attach feeling words to our experience of race: “Race makes me feel…

Secondly, we must give up control of how the conversation will go.  We must see each other not only as equals but as persons in the same position: friends.  We will need to rid ourselves of the roles of master and slave, dominant and subservient, oppressor and oppressed.

How do we do this?  We will our selves to.  We make ourselves do it.  It’s not easy and that’s why we must.  Because this work is not easy.  There are no easy ways in or out of the racialized life.  There are no shortcuts to reconciliation, no city dumping ground for its baggage.

This loss of control extends to the opportunities, options and outcomes of the conversation.  We don’t possess each other and we don’t own the conversation.  So, we might not get the first word or the final say.  And it may not go our way.

Acceptance is a really deep part of this dialogue and much of it will be about accepting what we have said and what those words have empowered us, for good or for ill, to do to ourselves and others.  Our relationships will change once we decide to challenge our relationship with race.  When we move beyond the superficiality of skin, then we will be able to relate to each other as kin.

I challenge you to go deeper.

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