Because of the hypersensitivity to which our world has succumbed, race is a frightening or taboo subject for many. Nonetheless, we should all talk about it.
It’s really hard to label anyone an expert on race. Many of us have been exposed to various cultural practices and living conditions, but there is a world out there that transcends our experiences or academic knowledge.
We should discuss race for the simple matter of being educated. All of us are unlearned in some area of life. It would do us good to step outside our comfort level and become aware of the things that surround us.
When discussing race, it is important to realize the emotions and experiences that accompany the topic. A white person, even with good intentions, will never be black and therefore cannot speak as a black person. A black person will never be white and therefore cannot possess the feelings of a white person. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just the different components of genetics and behavior in action.
The purpose of discussing race is to garner a better understanding and appreciation for others’ lives. Just because one can say, “my best friend is black,” that doesn’t necessarily mean they have taken the time to understand the diverse areas of black culture.
However, the racial makeup of a circle of friends provides a great indication of how we perceive race. If our friends look just like we do, it may signal we are afraid of stepping outside of normalcy and comfort. It doesn’t make us evil people— just unlearned.
As we seek to educate ourselves about race, we may find our perceptions in error. When discussing race it’s almost always beneficial to keep an open mind and a respectful dialogue. That’s because one of the biggest barriers to bridging the racial divide is assumption.
We cannot, for instance, assume that all black people or all white people think alike. I vividly remember some whites assuming I was going to vote for Barack Obama for president in 2008 solely based on the fact I have brown skin. I know some blacks that are cautious and weary of engaging with whites because they presume they are out to manipulate them.
Assumptions are not healthy. They only cause us to be apprehensive and regressive when it comes to communication. We must be willing to find what we have in common instead of what separates us.
Blacks and whites similarly cherish things such as family, friends, cultural activities, education and sports. When we become more focused on each other we will find ourselves embracing not only diversity but humanity.
Nobody should have to fear repercussions due to voicing their opinions on race. But, for their views to be valid, they must listen, engage and educate themselves. If we do not discuss race, we limit ourselves and become citizens of an isolated world.
Race is a beautiful thing. It’s a human thing. It should be embraced— not feared.
Demetrius Minor is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network and a youth minister. A version of this commentary recently appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Comments may be sent to: Project21@nationalcenter.org.