This weekend on Facebook, I posted a link to Honoree Fannone Jeffer’s analysis of the angry encounter between President Obama and Governor Brewer. The response to that post was intense. People found Jeffer’s ideas correct and sound; others found her divisive and hyperbolic. Many didn’t, it seem to me, even read the post but simply reacted to the idea that she was suggesting a racial element to the encounter. It was this last reaction that frustrated me so.
I believe – with everything I am – that the only way beyond pain and hardship is through it. I don’t believe we can back away from it, or hide from it, or skirt it and make any progress as individual people or as a nation. Thus, when the subject of race comes up, I want to talk about it. I don’t want to hide. I don’t want to pretend I have it all figured out or that race isn’t an issue. I want to have a real conversation. And to have a conversation, we have to hear (or in this case, read) the other person’s point of view.
No doubt, these conversations are so hard. They require us to be vulnerable and admit what we don’t know; they can reveal our own undiscovered prejudices and stereotypes; they can make us angry and hurt and sad. But they can also lead us to more understanding, a deeper appreciation of our individual struggles and our cultural clashes. They can show us more of who we are and help us become more of who we want to become.
To pretend that race is not an area where we, as a country, struggle mightily is very naive. To pretend that some of the things we all do – consciously or unconsciously – are racially motivated is willfully ignorant. For example, do I think Governor Brewer was doing something that was intentionally racist? No. Do I think that her action may have been spurred by unacknowledged racial attitudes? Maybe. Do I think, after reading Jeffer’s post, that President Obama and other black people in this country might have seen it as racially and culturally insulting? Definitely.
I know other people see this moment in our nation’s history differently, and that’s just fine with me. I would like to talk to those people, hear their opinions, weigh my own, and, perhaps, change my own. I would like the same respect shown to me and every other person – including Ms. Jeffer’s – who wants to participate in this discussion.
Too often, though, we choose not to have these conversations because they are hard and because, sometimes, we don’t really don’t want to risk having to change our opinions. That’s really sad and cowardly. We can do better.
What do you think about conversations about race and other tough topics like religion and politics? Are they important to have? How should we conduct them if they are?
By the way, I don’t think Facebook is necessarily the ideal place to have these conversations. In a perfect world where we spent time with people face to face, those personal, physical conversations would be so much better. But in our world where we connect so often via social media, maybe we need to learn to be better at having these conversations there, too. I certainly need to be better at that.