Evolving the Race Conversation

June 21st, 2008

From Judgement to Design

I planned a very cool evening for myself tonight. I was invited over to a friend’s house to watch a series of short films on political issues- race, gender, and sexuality. The room was mostly people of color, activists, organizational development consultants, and change agents –people who have dedicated their lives to bring equity and social justice to organizations and their systems.

But I found myself trapped in a room of angry and stuck folks who blamed white people for all their problems. More than once a person of color (POC) had no problem making a blanket statement putting down white people – “A white person wouldn’t understand…” or “I would only do that if it was an exclusive group of POCs”. I understand where these statements are coming from. In fact, I made statements like these just a few years ago. But I found myself thinking “Really?”

Really? Is this as far as the social justice movement has come – where the people who are willing and eager to engage with issues of social justice are just trying to create spaces where POCs get to feel empowered by putting down white people? Where blanket statements of discrimination go unchecked because a POC never has to check themselves on the race line? Because white people get so many privileges that if a POC wants to take some rage out on some poor granola-esque Berkeley white woman, she has to shoulder that blame and internalize that guilt?

Of course the world needs to heal from the long-stemming effects of race, class, and cultural imperialism. Of course each of us have internalized some messages of the privileges or limitations that our skin color allows or denies us, and these messages should be brought to our awareness. Of course we could all use a little healing from the past and present. But when are we going to transcend the stories of hate and hurt, blame and shame, guilt and repression to a space of love and compassion?

I am interested in moving the dialogue on race relations forward. I am interested in acknowledging that each person comes into the world with issues to work out. I am interested in creating space for each person to work through each issue with as much love and compassion for ourselves and those in our paths that we can muster. I am interested in acknowledging that circling around and around within our own stories of hurt keeps us in a stuck energy. I am interested in finding genuine ways to connect with all people, to celebrate the connections, and honor the spaces we each need to deepen our personal healing work around personal issues.

Of course people of color have undergone more injustice than anyone should ever have to deal with.  But the point is that we shouldn’t create more of it for other folks in an effort to heal.  That doesn’t help relieve any of our own suffering.  Until conversations around race, class, gender, and sexuality move to a more mature place we are not going to see long-term sustainable change.  And it starts with change-makers and activists adjusting this paradigm.

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