Why Is It So Difficult to Talk About Race? (#657)

Wayne met Arnita Taylor in March right at the time when he and a friend were looking for a collaborator on a book they were planning called The Language of Healing. Arnita has a gift of creating a safe space for people to explore racial tensions, differences, and sensitivity. Trained as a scientist, she is now the founder of Eight Leadership Development Group (formerly Eight Ministries) and does leadership development coaching for individuals and teams. She and Wayne discuss racial differences and anxiety in our culture, how much bias still exists for people of color, and how to open the door for more meaningful discovery and conversations.

Podcast Notes:
Email Arnita
Red Table Talk about Race Wayne and Arnita referred to.
The latest news from our project in Kenya

11 Comments

  1. Thank you so much Wayne and Arnita for recording and sharing this conversation for us to hear.

    I have noticed that people often think they are very kind and loving, but yet they also thoughtlessly say some very cruel and unkind things.

    It makes my heart cringe with sadness, that some folks endure this kind of cruelty on an almost daily basis.

    May God open our eyes and help us to love people.

  2. Anita, your voice is so calming I can see your gifted for healing divisions/conflict etc. in this world…

    When I left the institution years back, I came across Wayne’s quote “love the next person in front of you and see where it leads”….it led me to the low income apartments in our majority white small town IA community…
    It was awesome! I got to be friends with a young gal with 5 kids who fled Chicago…she said most of her family is either dead or in jail. She is on welfare and doesn’t have her GED. Now I come from a family/relatives background who are adomantly against welfare and think women have babies to get more welfare. It has been wonderful in family conversations now to say how I have a FRIEND who has welfare and Medicaid but she can’t find a dentist to take her (there is a law they don’t have to take Medicaid patients)…how she is responsible working without her GED and how I am so proud of her and honor her for doing what’s best for her kids fleeing the environment in inner city Chicago to provide a better life for her kids eventhough that meant she is one of a handful of African Americans living in the town. It’s a lot harder to stereotype and have political generalizations when you are simply loving the next person in front of you:)!
    So thankful for you Wayne to keep these conversations alive and I am eager to read that book you’re working on!

  3. Arnita: thank you for sharing your perspectives with us. Wayne: thank you for bringing her in.

    “There is none so blind as the one who doesn’t know he can’t see.” Seems to me that our individualistic culture has spawned a population where self-awareness predominates. Western society is a terribly lonely place. We might bump into each other now and again, but seldom engage. If we do finally bond with someone, the glue tends to be something external, like an ideal or a vow or agreement, rather than personhood. In that self-aware space, there is no room for empathy or compassion, but only assumption toward what is outside it.

    I realize y’all are writing a book about healing. To quote myself, “You don’t pray for healing until you know that you are sick.” Most of us are blissfully unaware of our maladies, or how deep they run. All of us have biases – we can’t help it. All of us are broken, all of us have mental illness, yet we choose denial because we don’t have the courage to explore those parts of ourselves. Instead, we hide them or suppress them. If you grew up evangelical like me, you know you are very good at hiding, suppressing, and appearing normal.

    I don’t think I would be capable of having the public conversations you spoke about, until I’ve had the same conversations with my own heart. Or, better yet, a heart-to-heart with Father God about the truth of me. Until I can be comfortably truthful, I will remain unaware of my biases and brokenness, and will not be healed. As for society, I see God healing it heart-by-heart.

  4. If any of you have questions or comments for Arnita, we could have her back on to wrestle with them. Please post here or send to me at waynej@lifestream.org. You may offer them confidentially if you wish. Arnita doesn’t claim to speak for anyone but herself, but she’s open to the kind of interactions that allow people to grow, rather than be accused and shamed. Thanks.

  5. thanks Wayne for acknowledging there is a racial problem and contributing to healing and reconciliation. every little bit helps … even if one white person’s perspective has shifted for the better, that is a good thing

  6. I have a couple of thoughts on how I processed the good discussion on this podcast.

    1. I think Wayne really nailed the problem with the term “white privilege” by saying a better term is Jesus’ words he paraphrased from Luke 12:48, ” And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. (NASB)” Like many people, I bristle at the term “white privilege”. As I reflected on Jesus words vs. that term, I realize that what happens in me when I hear the term is its implication that A) this is the only kind of advantage that matters and B) it is somehow immoral that this happened. Regarding (A), like may people, when I hear the term, I realize two things: First that I am very thankful for much that I have been given (e.g. being born in the 20th century, after WWII) and second, that that growing up I was aware of others close around me who were given/entrusted with much more. I think Jesus’ choice of words “given” and “entrusted” are more true to life. I think we can all discuss what we have been been given (and not) and entrusted with in life – things we had no part in. And using Jesus’ language, I think we have a way to talk about the radical differences in the lives of people we touch.

    2. I thought about the numbers quoted in a Time magazine article. In regard to the statistics on percentages of people surveyed (don’t know how the survey was done) who think there is still significant skin color based (*) discrimination in the US today. First, I think Wayne’s first response is the right one for light skinned people: “You are asking the wrong person.” But I thought about how I would answer when pushed for an answer and why. I concluded that in a sense everyone is right. I assume the article is making the point that light skinned people are hidden racists when they say that discrimination is not bad. But I thought of how I would answer if forced to give an answer and I wonder if my experience applies to many others. Among close friends and family with dark skin, I would say that most have told me of important bad experiences with discrimination/ill-treatment due to skin color. Yet, my contacts with far more dark skinned people in other contexts don’t have this kind of report. I realize on reflection that this is because I know them in a context like a co-worker, client, tennis player, tennis captain, conference attendee etc. where even though we talk a lot, we are focused on our context so we never talk about our various bad experiences in life. In those contexts, my experience is to have seen little discrimination, at least in more recent times. So my unconscious statistical averaging of people says, “discrimination is isolated.” So in a sense, my answer to the survey question is “right” even though the dark skinned person who says “yes” is also quite correct. Maybe a better question for light skinned people would have been, “Do you know dark skinned people who have experienced significant discrimination/ill-treatment” due to skin color, even in recent times?”
    3. I think one of the tragedies of our modern over-sensitivity to “race” issues is that a lot of research that would be both academically interesting and generally edifying does not get done. I can think of a lot of interesting genetic studies relating genetics to cultural and social effects. But none of this gets done because so often there is one possible outcome that is the “wrong” answer in a politically correct sense. So no one will do the research because if you get the “wrong” answer, you can’t publish your results or your career is over.

    I should conclude saying that obviously my own thoughts come out of a unique life experience of mine. I know that I can do better to first listen to that life experience of others before making any assumptions about how they see things.

    (*) I use the words “dark skinned” and “light skinned” because I think it is truer to how our Creator has made us. It also helps me reinforce in my own belief to myself that we are talking skin color, not different creatures in a Darwinian sense. I believe the Bible recognizes family groups but not “race” in the modern Darwinian context. As in the Luke 12:48 case, I think Christians can bring a lot to the healing process by talking about things the way God sees them. When asked “race” on forms, I always check “other” and say “human.” (This once got me a personal visit from someone from the Census Bureau). If they ask “ethnic background”, I can say “Mostly European” (according to 23andme).

  7. I grew up in Milwaukee in the 1950’s. As a child I rode the bus downtown occasionally with my mother to go shopping. I remember the signs posted at restrooms and water fountains (bubblers), Whites Only. That is in my lifetime! Years later, I find the memory haunting and painful. Although there are no traces of signs posted in those places today, the racial division today is undenialable. If you enjoy documentaries, watch 53206 Milwaukee. I believe it was made in 2016.

    There is a difference between “media”and good journalism. Professor Glaude‘s piece in Time magazine is an example. I think it is an excellent article.

    I loved Arnita’s comments regarding color blindness. It does create a barrier. We are different.

    I was an Alcohol & Drug Abuse counselor for many years. I could not possibly participate in my client’s treatment planning without exploring their culture and spiritual beliefs. There is so much to learn and celebrate when we allow ourselves to engage with others in that process. I have never been turned down when telling someone, I don’t get it, I just don’t see it, would you help me to understand? It does take time though..sometimes lots of time.

    Arnita reminded me of the parable, the Sower and the Seed! The Kingdom of God is like a Sower…there Arnita is responding to God’s love sowing seeds, throwing those beautiful seeds all over the place! My hope is that my soil is fertile and the seed will form deep roots, grow and produce fruit.

    Thank you, Wayne. Please have Arnita back, so much more to learn from her. Can’t wait to read the book on healing.

    PS So grateful for your posts on Facebook regarding the fire updates. We are grateful you, Sara and family are safe. We are heartbroken over the loss of life and catastrophic damage. I am at a loss for words..

  8. I loved this dialogue! Arnita’s perspective and insight is absolutely invaluable. In the beginning of the conversation, Wayne said, “I think everyone accept the white nationalists don’t think of themselves as racist. So when the R word comes up they really freak out and just want to get really defensive and the more they deny what they’re not, the more convinced you get that maybe they protest too much.” I think it would behoove Wayne to define white nationalist. The rhetorical/editorial nature of so called news programs that constantly put their spin on the meaning of words and phrases cannot be underestimated in the over-all perceptions of culture. It is definately not cool to be white, especially white and male. Maybe we needed a wake up call, a “How does it feel?” moment. I feel and honestly have had epiphanys along the way, that always lead me to examine my own heart, the dark parts as well. I want to know God’s truth and the truth of my own heart in light of it.
    Arnita’s point about how can anyone speak to another’s experience is so TRUE!! I am white, conservative, ex-patriot of religion and free-wheeling it out here in the world. I live in a beautiful, multicultural median to low income neighborhood. I grew up poor in the projects with 3 siblings and a single mom. None of our white privelege helped at the time. Now I most definately know that I benefit from it on the daily and in a multitude of ways I’m not aware of.
    It is so important that we work this out in our personal circles- families, neighbors, and co-workers and just everyone we meet on the street. Right after we bought our home I went to a local grocery. I was followed by group of African American girls throughout the store. One of them elbowed me when they walked by. I was so angry and really disheartened. Racism is wrong anywhere it happens. I realize that black people deal with this in a myriad of ways that I will never have to deal with. I cannot excuse it in ANY case, even when I know that it is very one sided, historcally and now.
    I admit that I had to work through the several instances where I experienced racism and hostility and honestly cannot imagine the courage and heart it takes for those who have been victims of such treatment all their lives, to be graceful and hopeful. I work to challenge my biases and intentionally look everyone in the eye, and try to be as aware of myself as I can be. I think everyone should practice this.
    I am very excited about reading the book, and pray for healing. I hope for common sense to make a raging comeback that makes real change possible. My perspective among many other things, being white and a nationalist is that I love and deeply appreciate the beauty of our multicultural country. It is our strength and our pride and our beauty.
    Maybe the protestations of the white nationalists (what qualifies for one to be such is unclear in the afore mentioned context) against the R- word is that anyone who isn’t a Liberal or Democrat is labeled as a racist. Unmistakably racism exists and is utterly disgusting and wrong. It exists in all parties and persuasions. It’s not about finger pointing. It is all wrong. God help us to have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to obey what the Spirit is saying. Thank you so much Wayne for this dialogue! If I am mistaken on anything, I apologize. I understand that my unique experience is the filter I look through.

    • Hi Nancy Jo. I appreciate your comments. I misspoke a bit and you got one word wrong. What I wish I would have said was, ““I think everyone except white supremacists don’t think of themselves as racist.” We view it in such extreme ways that we miss the subtle ways we might see our own race as different (and often better) than we see other races, or recognize how we think our way of acting, dressing, or grooming is more “right” than the way other cultures might do so.

      That said, I don’t think it’s a difficult time to be white and male. Yes, people rag on us a bit, but in the larger scheme of things we have far more opportunity and allowances in the culture (in most areas) that people of other ethnicity or gender. In most cases, that isn’t even malicious, just the result of having been the majority culture for so long in a society where power is more easily shared where people fit in to the underlying and mostly unseen European expectations. Learning to be aware of that and live more generously in the world is what I hope people want to learn. Every human has the gift of God within, whether embraced, ignored, or resisted.

  9. Wayne
    Thanks for the stage for this real conversation about a very real subject. This is a strong yet non-threatening discussion that teaches and enlightens. Thank you Arnita for sharing you with us! More please!!

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