I recently listened to an interview on racial reconciliation. When the African American man was asked about the way to reconciliation by his European American interviewer and self- described “white ally,” he started the conversation with American slavery. I was immediately struck by the fact that he felt the need to start there, that reconciliation had a backlog of nearly four hundred years. It is no wonder then that we often feel overwhelmed, helpless and even tempted to give up, to stop talking, to throw in our hopes and quit.
The distance between us can only be shortened by the number of conversations that we have with each other. We don’t need walk a mile in each other’s shoes; instead, we need to sit down and talk awhile. Now, the subject matter will not always be easy; the words and experiences that we will discuss may not produce immediate connections. But, the bond will form through our vulnerability, in the exchange of words and the holding of these memories.
We will need to talk about race not just in the comfort of workshops or even over dinner but over the course of our relationships, cross- cultural and otherwise. It is important not only to discover what we have done to each other in word and in deed we mean but why this word or that person carries that kind of meaning. We need to talk it out, to hear ourselves out, without uncomfortable interruption or angry interjection. We need to listen to what we are saying about other people and to our selves.
And we will need to say it now and every day after now. We will need to say what we mean when we utilize the words of race in our relationships, when we describe ourselves and our neighbors in its burdened colors. What do we really mean? What are we really saying? Why does race have such a hold on who we are and how we relate to each other?
If you haven’t noticed, I am interviewing you now. Not to worry, I am your ally. So, let’s talk about it for as long as we have left as I have no interest in handing down to the next generation a backlog of conversations that we never got around to.