New Style Race Talks (12/15/12)

I facilitate a group in a treatment center where we talk about culture.  I’ve had a hard time with this group because, the concept is so broad.  I think I was a little too hung up in the beginning about the theoretical stuff because my obsession with race and identity took me to write a 50 page literature review and thesis.  And right after that, I started teaching this class 🙂  Now I think I’m getting a little better grasp about more narrow topics, more universal and accessible.  Yesterday I led a discussion about stereotypes we may have developed as kids.

The conversation was kinda sterile for a while.  The women were to answer 3 questions with another person:

  • What is your definition of race?
  • When did you first notice your race?
  • What did you learn about your racial identity from your family (verbally or non-verbally)?

These women are for the most part in their 20s.  White, Black, Native, and Multiracial.  I think it’s usually pretty uncomfortable to talk about race in general.  And I don’t know whether it’s my personal observation or a phenomenon, but I think many young people think racism is over, they are very verbal about not judging people based on their race, they are aware of the browning of America and like to talk about how one day we’ll all be the same color.  Very careful, very politically correct and progressive, color-blind.  (It infuriates me.  I try not to show that.)

I could see that one of the Native women was agitated by her partner talking about how race was a label assigned by the government.  She was taking offense and kept talking about how she got what the other woman was saying, but that she was proud to be Ojibwe and that it was not just a government assigned label.  To push the conversation further, I talked about how another member had triggered my anxiety about race based on her comments that she didn’t really care about a conversation about race.  I briefly talked about the social aspects of race and belonging, noting that even though some people don’t have to think about it, race is a big social issue, very real.  I also talked to them about how the conversation about race is subjective, difficult, and emotional, how there will be no right answers, just conversations.  Here are some highlights:

  • I don’t see race because we’re all more different shades and no one is pure anymore.  I see it more as culture.
  • Race is only for the census, as a way to fill out boxes and for the government to classify us.
  • I love being “all mixed up.”  That’s what my mom called us and that’s what I say now.  I know I’m pretty.  Everyone loves my skin and my hair.  I’d like to date a White guy but I don’t know how to approach them.

Sidebar:  We had a little conversation about being biracial.  This woman talked about how she always felt very, very special.  In my research, this is common in biracial people, I experienced it myself.  It’s interesting how being biracial can make you feel superior and special, or inferior and different.  Sometimes both.

  • People used to talk about White privelege.  Like, in the 90s.
  • The first time I noticed race was when I made a Black friend in college and she got me to notice how we had a different experience shopping – she was followed.  She opened my eyes to some of the differences.
  • Is it a real thing that Black women don’t like to see Black men with White women?

My personal favorite was this one, coincidentally the same woman that triggered my anxiety about this not being an important conversation:

“I  ran into my old [white] crush.  He told me he ONLY dated Black girls!!  I was shocked!”  The group laughed.  I asked, “And why were you shocked?”  She stammered a little bit before saying, “I just didn’t know that about him…”

This is what shocks me about the new style of racial perceptions.  It’s like, people don’t even know how racist they are.  Just before this comment was made, another facilitator had come in and joined the group.  We had just finished trying to explain colorism, heirarchy of shade.  If you are suprised that a White man could have an aesthetic that prefers Black women… then what is it that you really think about Black women?  Totally caught her off guard.  And to go further, why does that White man exclusively date Black women?  Where does that come from?

I think that to me it feels like we have advanced to a place where there is a polite dialogue that is socially appropriate in talking about race.  But I am not satisfied.  So in my little space in the world, we’re going to talk about it a little deeper.

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