How to Begin Our Conversation

Racism if defined differently by whites and by blacks. We ought to factor in that difference if we want to begin a meaningful conversation–Because February is Black History month, there has recently been a few stories about the state of race relations, and as part of that emphasis our Attorney General made a provocative statement about us being cowards when it comes to discussing race. This provoked discussion, although not the substantive one we need nor the one he hoped for. One fact came out, as it does year after year, that African-Americans view the state of racism differently than whites. For blacks, the picture is far less perfect. Why is this a surprise? Why do our polls not seem to integrate that, as much as the experiencing of it, African-Americans and whites define racism in different terms? Words that remain triggers for blacks, for example, are not so for whites. Perceptions too are at variance. For many whites the fact that our current President is black means prejudice has been overcome. For blacks, it tends to instead stand as a bridge to truer equality. There are also deep generational differences. African-Americans old enough to have heard MLK or march, or be involved in civil rights, do not have he same perception of race relations than their younger cohorts. It’s a bit like the dichotomy of seeing the glass half-empty or half-full.
Call it compassion, honesty, equality… it comes down to the same thing: All of us ought to be more sensitive to the definitions of others racial groups and factor in their perceptions if we want to be able to understand each other and engage in the needed meaningful conversation about race.