In light of everything that’s been in the news lately, a couple weeks ago I decided to do the unthinkable. I called my black friends to talk to them about race.
As a white person, I was taught that you don’t discuss race. It’s rude. It might offend, so don’t talk about it. What pushed me over the edge was that I keep seeing African American people on TV talking about what white people think and how we act, and they have it wrong. I’m not like they say we are, and neither are my white friends. It’s frustrating to keep hearing accusations of what people like me think or feel, or what our life experience is like and no one seems to care if it’s true or not. One day I realized, if they are misunderstanding me so much, it stands to reason I’m misunderstanding the African American experience and thinking just as much. So I called. I was scared, but I did it anyway.
They weren’t offended as I feared they might be. In fact, I was thanked. I think I got that response because I didn’t call to explain my point of view or give rebuttal to what’s being said on the news. There are plenty of people doing that in the media and social media. I called to find out their experience, their perspective, and their thoughts. Everyone wants to be heard.
I believe that’s a big part of the racial tension in our country right now; everybody wants to be heard, but no one wants to listen. Making matters worse, it’s the people on the fringe that get all the press. Remember the bell curve from math class? It looks like this:
The point of a bell curve is that, given a large population dropped into a situation, the distribution of that population will fall in this pattern. In the current situation the people on either end of the continuum (as pertaining specifically to race issues) are the ones that are most outspoken, and therefore that we see most on TV and ranting on social media. That’s a total of 5% of the population (I’m estimating here) talking loudly while the rest of us, of all races, are just trying to keep our heads above water and understand what the heck is going on. Think about that. 2.5% of the population shouting “White people and cops are evil and trying to kill off black people!” and 2.5% of people shouting “Black people are criminals and don’t contribute to society!” while the rest of us know there are good and bad in every group, and most of us are trying our best to do what’s right.
So what’s the answer? Have the conversation. As a white person, I learned a lot listening to my black friends. I had no idea there was as much prejudice as there is because I’ve never heard anyone talking about it, except the ones that are screaming that I’m evil because I’m white. (OK, they don’t say I’m personally evil, but that’s what I hear when I hear them screaming because I’m human, and we take things personally.) I learned a lot, and I’m glad I made the calls.
I’m encouraging my white friends, call your black friends and have the conversation. If you don’t have any black friends, take a minute to think about that. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not calling you a racist. It’s a statement about our culture that it’s possible to live in a country that is something like 12-14% African American and not have your circle intersect with theirs. There’s a lot more to be said about that, but that’s for another day. For now, have the conversation. Ask the questions, and listen. Be humble, and don’t accuse, don’t defend, just listen. Don’t make the excuse that you don’t know them well enough to ask, either. One of the friends I talked to is someone I’ve only known for a few months, and she was willing to talk to me and appreciated that I asked. We’ve had a couple conversations about this, and I’m continuing to learn.
I firmly believe it’s time the majority in the middle take back our country from those who are screaming. Let’s learn that they are the fringe and reclaim our culture, not to what it has been, since it is definitely flawed in race relations, but to something better, grown out of mutual respect and understanding.
Do the unthinkable. Have the conversation.