Sunday, April 11, 2010

The race conversation: How do we have it?

Yesterday an Anonymous comment was posted on the blog, "What actually concerns me, is that it seems to me from your statements on this blog that you don't believe there are any race problems anymore." I understand that many in the United States feel their guilt over Civil Rights was vindicated by the election of Obama as the first mixed-race President of the United States. That view is not shared by me nor do I feel guilt over the sins of past Americans in regards to race. Yes, I am a white male of European decent. To my knowledge, my ancestors never owned, traded or participated in the slave trade.

While the treatment of early Africans by the settlers in colonial life and tribes in Africa was barbaric, it does nothing for our society to dwell upon it. The events were tragic, horrorific and unjust. The bigger issue facing our great melting pot is how to move forward. The issue of race invokes the same ire, disdain and polarization that abortion, religion and politics brings. Unfortunately a cottage industry exists to keep us separated to ensure a livelihood of those within it. A while back I joined a group known as Truth2Power on Facebook.

Truth2Power group was established to "A place for the serious minded to come and discuss the politics and issues affecting us all....While this group focuses primarily on news and commentary from an African-American perspective, ALL are welcome to contribute and provide insight regardless of ethnicy or whether your on the right, left or somewhere in between....This is not just a place to talk, but to talk about solutions, and put those solutions into action..The dialogue will be fresh, frank, and even heated, but always respectful....So all that are truly ready to make a change, no matter how challenging it may be, please join us." The group has been a great source for me to discuss race. There have been times I have been accused as being a racist, bigot or just another White Privileged child in America. But through our discussions a certain level of respect has been developed as we discuss the similarities and difference that exist between the races.

Why is the general public fearful of debating race? Just because two people disagree on a particular issue when dealing with race does not make either party a racist, bigot or an Uncle Tom. We are all shaped by our own experiences, upbringing, education and environment. My alma mater just lost a long battle in regards to the nickname Fighting Sioux because some tribes outside of North Dakota deemed it racist and derogatory. I do not want to get bogged down in a conversation on whether the nickname is racist or not; rather I pose this question: How will the removal of the Fighting Sioux nickname positively move forward the debate on race?

The whitewashing of school nicknames and the use of politically correct terms does nothing to move the conversation forward. Every group has its quirks which become stereotypes of the collective. By not understanding, recognizing and embracing the quirks we, as a society, will never move the conversation of race forward. Leaving the nickname Fighting Sioux gives us a reminder that these quirks exist and opens up the conversation of race. Without nicknames like the Fighting Sioux, the Fighting Irish, Indians, Tar Heels, Lobos, Jayhawks or Hoosiers we will lose sight of difference that exist and the forum to discuss them under the guise of racist nicknames.

As a white man I know that when I walk into a bank, grocery store or a department store that the trained security eye is not upon me. Why? Yes, because I am white I recognize that but I think a bigger part is because we are not comfortable talking about race. Nor are we willing to recognize the quirks (stereotypes) that each culture or race bring to America. So, how do we move the conversation forward without getting bogged down in politically correct rhetoric or rehashing the sins of the past? Or is our society too polarized to have an open, honest and respectful conversation?