Today, I want to address some ideas that I think could possibly help race relations. If you missed Part 1 to my series Guilty Until Proven Innocent, make sure you read that first to get a better understanding of where I’m coming from.
I often hear people say that they don’t see color but I disagree with this approach. It is already engrained in us to recognize color and to have certain associations with that color. Seeing a person’s color is not the problem, it’s the inaccurate associations that go with them. Don’t be blind to the fact that they are there. We must first acknowledge the associations before they can even be addressed.
There is an excellent children’s book that I recommend that addresses this very topic. While it does come from a religious perspective, it does a great job of celebrating the different colors that humans are made in. The name of the book is ColorFull: Celebrating the Colors God Gave Us. More book recommendations are at the end of this post.
No one is immune to having negative associations about a particular race and that includes me. Even within the black community, there are sometimes negative associations people believe about blacks. Some people believe that one skin complexion is better than another. Some people believe that a looser curled hair texture, also referred to as “good hair” by some, is better than a tighter curl. Some people see a black person and automatically assume the worst while a white person doing the same thing isn’t thought of as a threat. Accept that you are not immune.
Use Your Voice
Speak up when you see or hear something that is wrong. If a family member or friend says something inappropriate about a person of color, tell them that that’s not right. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
We can’t keep doing the same thing expecting different results. I believe it’s important to intentionally be in diverse environments. My family was intentional about buying a house in a diverse neighborhood. Yes, there were houses available that had higher ranked schools (although ours are still pretty good), but those schools lacked diversity. Some had less than 5% of black students. The United States population doesn’t look like that. How are people going to start having positive associations with people of color if they never see any people of color?
Develop Authentic Relationships
It’s interesting to me when a white person says that they have a black friend. My question to that person is, do they get the same treatment as their white friends? Do you invite them over to your house or accept an invitation when one is extended to their house? Do you ever have a deeper conversation than “Hey, how are you? I’m fine, thank you.” If you want to develop an authentic relationship with a person that is a different race than you, perhaps you could start by inviting them out to coffee or a drink and get to know them. If you already do this, then great!
There is a lot of distrust and mistrust among people of color when it comes to whether or not we can trust white people because of past pain. While I encourage developing authentic relationships, it may take time. I want to make it clear that no person of color owes you their time. If they choose to spend time with you, it is their choice. If you are able to spend time together, make it about them. Listen to them and don’t try to solve anything when you’re just getting started.
In no way will we be able to solve the issues this country has had with race for the past 400 years overnight. However, I do believe that we can move in the right direction and that begins with understanding each other. Below, I have some recommended books and documentaries.
Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. For twenty-five years, Debby Irving sensed inexplicable racial tensions in her personal and professional relationships. As a colleague and neighbor, she worried about offending people she dearly wanted to befriend. As an arts administrator, she didn’t understand why her diversity efforts lacked traction. As a teacher, she found her best efforts to reach out to students and families of color left her wondering what she was missing. Then, in 2009, one “aha!” moment launched an adventure of discovery and insight that drastically shifted her worldview and upended her life plan. In Waking Up White, Irving tells her often cringe-worthy story with such openness that readers will turn every page rooting for her-and ultimately for all of us.
Black is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard. In these twelve deeply personal, connected essays, Bernard details the experience of growing up black in the south with a family name inherited from a white man, surviving a random stabbing at a New Haven coffee shop, marrying a white man from the North and bringing him home to her family, adopting two children from Ethiopia, and living and teaching in a primarily white New England college town. Each of these essays sets out to discover a new way of talking about race and of telling the truth as the author has lived it. “Blackness is an art, not a science. It is a paradox: intangible and visceral; a situation and a story. It is the thread that connects these essays, but its significance as an experience emerges randomly, unpredictably. . . . Race is the story of my life, and therefore black is the body of this book.”
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. Since its publication in 2010, the book has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year; been dubbed the “secular bible of a new social movement” by numerous commentators, including Cornel West; and has led to consciousness-raising efforts in universities, churches, community centers, re-entry centers, and prisons nationwide. The New Jim Crow tells a truth our nation has been reluctant to face.
ColorFull: Celebrating the Colors God Gave Us by Dorena Williamson. Imani and Kayla are the best of friends who are learning to celebrate their different skin colors. As they look around them at the amazing colors in nature, they can see that their skin is another example of God’s creativity! This joyful story takes a new approach to discussing race: instead of being colorblind, we can choose to celebrate each color God gave us and be colorFULL instead.
13th: In this thought-provoking documentary, scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.
I Am Not Your Negro. Director Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished, Remember This House. It is a journey into black history that connects the Civil Rights movement to Black Lives Matter. It questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond.
*Cynamon Monique may receive a small commission for purchases made from links provided on this site. There is no added cost to you but your support helps keep Cynamon Monique running.