Sitting in a silent classroom full of students, everyone staring towards the ground, trying to think of how to properly answer the question their teacher just asked. What is the topic which can render a college classroom into complete silence? Race.
The situation described above is very similar to our class at the beginning of our conversation of race this week. When prompted to begin a discussion of the topic, no one knew what to say or how to begin. So instead of talking our way through it, we just sat in silence. Much like how many American’s react when confronted by race in their daily lives, we stayed silent as if we were pretending it doesn’t exist or affect us.
The subject of race has always been controversial. It seems that since our country was formed, race and the color of an individual’s skin has always been a topic of conversation. This became even more evident during the civil rights movement in the 60’s, with the infamous segregation and racism that was present during that time.
Years later, our society still cannot have an honest conversation about race without the fear of offending someone or being accused of being racist. Why is it that as a society we have so much anxiety related to race and the discussion surrounding it? I believe the answer to this question lies in our history and the context in which race has historically been talked about.
In the past, the only times race was talked about was in regards to slavery and segregation. The contemporary conversation of race will always be influenced by the historical context in which it was founded. Beverly Daniel Tatum speaks to this topic in her book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, stating that “the nature of Black-White race relations in the United States have been forever shaped by slavery and its social, psychological and economic legacies” (Tatum 39). Tatum offers valuable insight into the issues of race and identity throughout her book and this excerpt is just one of many which help to identify why, as a society, we have such difficulty talking about the subject.
This week we also watched the documentary, Through Their Eyes, created by Northern Kentucky University students examining racial identities, stereotypes and the topic of race on college campuses. I thought this documentary was really interesting because it was such an honest conversation about race, and that is something you just do not see in our society. I think they achieved this type of openness among participants because they were separated by their racial groups in the interviews. Having those racial similar to yourself around you, while talking about race, takes the uncertainty and worry out of the conversation because you will most likely not offend anyone and can therefore speak openly about your perceptions of race.
Simply put, we need to talk about race.
Typically, we only pursue the topic when we are forced to, usually due to a social event, issue or news story. Even then, everyone has an opinion about whether racism is involved but no one can offer a solution to our problem. We need to talk about it, any time and any place. We have to normalize the conversation so we can actually make progress towards a solution. We need to start a national dialogue about what race really means to us and how we can finally come to terms with it.
For a country that claims to be the ethnic melting pot, we certainly aren’t willing to talk about our ingredients. America, we need to stir the pot. We need to talk about race and remove it from the list of taboo topics we seem to cling to.