Maybe it Isn’t So Difficult (#657)
Arnita returns to help Wayne process some of the emails, comments and phone calls they both received after last week's podcast. They were delighted to find lots of wonderful engagement with people who listened to the podcast and wanted to interact further about it. Trained as a scientist, Arnita is the founder of Eight Leadership Development Group (formerly Eight Ministries) and does leadership development coaching for individuals and teams. They talk about "white privilege" and how the term can easily confuse the issue, rather than deal with the reality. After their taping, someone texted Arnita a term that might be less divisive: "culturally pre-determined advantages." It's a bit cumbersome as a term, but may be helpful. (Special Note: For those wondering, Brad will be back next week.)
First Podcast with Arnita: Why Is It So Difficult to Talk About Race?
The Red Table Talk Discussion about Race referred to in this podcast
The latest news from our project in Kenya
I found the discussion about the comment on the earlier podcast regarding the idea that “black people are so focused on race” interesting. I sat and reflected on this awhile because Arnita’s response was quite consistent with people I know and yet the comment made by the person seemed to resonate a bit. So how do I resolve this obvious discord? In part, I chalk it up to another symptom of the discord sowed by the “soap opera media” which will give great coverage to some “famous” person saying something silly about some trivial thing in life being “racist” – both from media that agree and don’t agree. And yet in real life, I think most of us experience dark-skinned people who, like everyone, talk about all the normal things of life except on the rare occasions when a matter of discrimination is relevant or talking about personal history etc. I suspect the commentator was responding more to the race baiters than to personal contacts. Yes I know there are “touchy” people on the subject of race – just like about every other subject. I hope the podcasts are an encouragement to everyone to not focus on the bad examples.
Like so much of modern life, I think talking about an issue like race with someone with personal experience of, for example, discrimination or family background, is a lot easier than talking with someone only about the political mantras of our era.
I am discovering many darker-skinned people don’t discuss the racial difficulties with their “lighter” friends simply because (a) they don’t think we’ll understand or acknowledge the struggle, and (b) they don’t want to appear whiny. These podcasts and working on the book have opened up a very different set of conversations for me that I am treasuring. An African American sister that I met a couple of weeks ago, wrote me recently to say next time we got together she would love to talk about how her race has affected her life in our culture. She’s a very accomplished professional and I can’t wait to see our society through her eyes. That’s how we grow.
But, like you, Earl I mostly enjoy being with people of various cultures and experiences and just talking about our lives, jobs, kids, and families. We are all people first and I think what everyone hopes is that some day we could simply love each other as individuals instead of dealing with bias because of the color of their skin.
I found out recently that racial animosity began during the Inquisition as a way for white Europeans to identify those who were “nonChristian” in their view. Can you imagine? According to this history person racial distinctions were not significant before then. When I read the Bible you don’t catch any racial issues between light and dark-skinned people. You can see that with Solomon and the Song of Songs. Race wasn’t an issue to love. The only distinction that plays out in the Bible is between the Jews as God’s chosen people and all others who were considered “pagans” before Acts 10.
It is totally a social construct, now embedded in 400 years of animosity. The color of our skin tells nothing more about us than how close our ancestors lived from the equator.
I am Eric and Wayne read parts of my FB comments at the 29-minute mark. My family and I lived in a majority non-white country for 19 and a half years.
At the 30 minute mark, Arnita’s story about walking in a store in Korea and hearing comments made that someone in her family could understand happened to us all the time. Our whole family spoke the language and usually when we would speak people got the same look of horror on their faces.
Finally, Wayne’s comment about “It’s got to be so tiresome.” hit the nail on the head. One day a close friend traveled with our family of 5 at the time by train to a nearby city. When we were going home at the end of the day she said “Wow. I am so tired. I never realized how tiring it is for your family. Everywhere you go you hear comments, people treat you differently, act strangely toward you. I never knew what it was like to be you in my country.”
I love the country we lived in and have many great friends still there, which is why I do not use its name when posting.
But here is what is interesting. Eventually, many of the people our town came to know us, so as long as we stayed in that town we were mainly accepted as who we were. (Not always, but mainly.) But any time we ventured to other areas we were not normal, and suspect.
I wish this was something every single white American could experience. It is the best way to understand everyday life for our minority citizens in the US. It is the best way to understand “culturally pre-determined advantages”.
I’m the adoptive mom of the hockey boys in the podcast. I really appreciated Arnita’s comments and suggestions. Much of it we had already been doing with the guys but it is good to know we were on the right track. Some of what Arnita said about “nuances” has made me think back on a couple occasions where we might have been encountering some biases and “undue supervision” without realizing what they were. All in all, I’m thankful for the good group of friends they have that don’t seem to notice the colour of their skin! Thanks Wayne and Arnita!
Wayne: Thank you for the opportunity of allowing others to hear your thoughts and honest opinions concerning this topic. Arnita: Thank you for answering your calling and becoming that bridge and helping to facilitate this conversation. I wholeheartedly enjoyed everything discussed in this episode! It got me really excited that there is a platform that’s taking the time to have an honest discussion about this.
Regarding this issue, it’s unfortunate that this veil has been placed over the eyes of the people; it presents a false reality of our society being completely and totally equal when that has yet to be the case. While the Civil Rights Movement was a stepping-stone towards Dr. King’s dream, it seems to have become the “quick fix” that gave our country agency to try and sweep the past under the rug. Being able to legally say that every citizen in the United States is equal means nothing when no action to reinforce that policy exists. Actions speak louder than words… plain and simple. Right now, legally saying everyone is equal is the equivalent of trying to use a Band-Aid to fix a fatal wound; you cannot expect that to hold the pieces together and heal the damage that has been done; it’s not strong enough and eventually the wound will reopen and the process has to start all over again. How can someone definitively say they treat everyone equally when they haven’t met “everyone” or at least interacted with people outside of their own cultural background? It either comes from a place of naive sincerity or being truly blind to what “everyone” means. That’s why we have the life we have so that as we journey through it, we make a point to meet, interact, and hopefully understand and respect one another along the way.
I loved your topic concerning the divide between the “white” and “nonwhite” cultural groups and how difficult it is for either side to try and gain perspective from each other. I say “nonwhite” because everything is not just “Black” and “White” – it stopped being an “us” versus “them” mentality when integration and biracial relationships occurred and now you have a group of people that straddle the line as well… the literal grey area, the taboo, etc.…. Bi/Multiracial individuals. How does this constant debate affect people who are in this space of ambiguity? Are they truly allowed to proudly claim both/all sides of themselves when others feel it’s their right to “put them in their place”? Is there ever a place that they truly feel comfortable with themselves and their identity? Or do they toe the line that exists in their world and that becomes the new normal? Personally, this was always a struggle when it came to my own ethnic identity. I am “White” (Because we haven’t hashed out all the European countries that exist on my father’s side), African-American, and Barbadian, and with a Hispanic last name to boot because my Step-Grandfather is Cuban. I never feel comfortable in any of my “skins”; I don’t ever truly feel white because I have been told by so many of my white peers growing up. I never feel “black” enough because I grew in a predominately white area, Keller Texas, and I have an extremely pale complexion so now I’m an anomaly even in the Black Community. “Are you mixed?” “Which parent is black/white?” “Are you sure you weren’t adopted?” “There’s no way that’s your mom/dad – you don’t look like them!” “Come on, tell the truth! You’re Blaxican aren’t you??” (Black & Mexican) It isn’t just the older generation that is having this problem of “Race” and it most certainly will not “die out” with them. Who’s raising my generation? The one after me? I remember tutoring second graders while in college and while reading a story to the kids, a little African-American girl was sitting really close to me… and she started stroking my arm. I asked her what she was doing and she said, “My grandma said that if someone has hairy arms and is “mixed” then that means that they have Rich Blood and one of their parents is white… Are either of your parents white?” I was dumbstruck… this was an eight year old using terminology that I had only heard from the elderly living in the area. Well, come to find out… that little girl was being raised by her grandmother, as were a lot of the young kids in the school system – black and white alike. So an entire generation of youth is being raised by Pre-Civil Rights ideology and vernacular. They didn’t realize how offensive that was because that’s how the adult speaks at home and if the adult speaks that way then it must be ok… right?
As a 23 year old, multiracial female, I have seen evidence of Race alive and kicking. People forget that rearing the next generation means a transfer of ideology and language. Like I said before, I grew up in the same area in Texas that Arnita lived in and I have had my fair share of peers that thought it funny to make side comments or jokes about a minority group because they assumed that none of them were in the room; or even so far as a play on words so that is sounds like they almost said a racist slur. I’m pale, with freckles, and my hair was always straight. If they didn’t assume I was white, they assumed I was Hispanic because of my family name, which is from my Step-Grandfather, I possessed a level of ambiguity that nobody could accurately categorize me so any kind of courtesy was taken away in exchange for them needing the information so they can rest easy know “what” I was and not who. Being able to pass was both a blessing and a curse because if they didn’t know, then I was a fly on the wall and could observe their behaviors without reproach, but also hear and see the disturbing things that they thought about other minorities. If they found out, then I was made a spectacle of because I was considered an anomaly. “What are you?”, “There’s no way you’re white and black!”, “You can’t be both!”, and “That’s not your parent, you don’t look like them!” That was by far the biggest blow – having to argue and fight with someone to prove that my parents were my biological kin because I didn’t have the same complexion as them – their whole perspective only went skin deep. Never mind that I have my mother’s eyes or my dad’s smile it was, “well if that’s your mom, then why don’t you have the same skin color? You got to be adopted! They’re not telling you everything!” Half the time they were joking, but they didn’t realize how cruel and damaging that joke was. I realized it wasn’t because they were doing it intentionally, but because they were ignorant to the other side of what that could mean to a person of color… and the adults were no better! I had a Biology teacher in High School try to come up with a simple example of explaining why organisms with different chromosome counts can’t procreate and she chose to say, “Hypothetically, if someone tried to have children with another individual of a different race, then they wouldn’t be able to have kids…”, which then led to me awkwardly raising my hand and saying, “My father is Caucasian and my mother is African-American/Black Caribbean… How do you explain my existence?” I could see the shock and mortification flood her face and she tried to backtrack and fix the horrible mistake she made… but the damage was done. I had a teacher unintentionally explain to a class of my peers that I’m either a genetic anomaly or abomination. Now they didn’t take it that seriously – they just thought I got one over on the teacher, but that still sticks with me. Having to stare down a grown adult and call them out on their ignorance; someone meant to guide me and navigate as I grow into an adult. Despite the fact that “Race” has drawn a line, it doesn’t stop people from crossing it – good or bad. From random women who used to come up to my family, “Aw you have such a beautiful family!”… Because they were not used to seeing a multiracial family in their community to “Oh my goodness, I just love your hair – I would kill to have hair that is able to do this!” and then they would proceed to try and touch my sister’s hair, or me as if we were animals at a petting zoo. Their reactions both stem from curiosity and surprise, but the delivery leaves a different impression.
Another side of this topic is how rooted the idea of “Race” is in American Culture. How we seem to use that as a constant topic of difference between ethnic groups. Television shows and movies can still use biracial relationships to drum up drama because the audience “just knows” that the older generation is going to have a problem with it. It’s always existed in media and now with social media controlling the younger generation, broadcasted opinions and misguided notions can cause quicker escalations to situations. Before it’s current use, “race” was used to acknowledge Man as a whole – we are all members of the Human “Race”, meaning there is nothing about us that is so different that we lose our humanity. Now, the term “Race” has become perverted by our society to categorize, marginalize, and create a general level of inferiority for anyone that was not “White”; this notion of “race” does not exist outside of the U.S. It was created before; during, and after slavery in order to cement the ideology that “black” and “white” can never meet a middle ground and that our skin colors was all it took to mark us as either inferior or superior; a systematic oppression of a population. Outside the U.S., there is acknowledgement of the term, but never used to identify a person in other societies. I never received any weird speculation concerning my family background when it came to visiting my family in Barbados, who are Black Barbadian. They may joke about me needing some sunscreen, but they never called me the “white girl” or asked me questions about which parent was white or black. They just let me exist and they loved me for it! I was comfortable with who I was because it didn’t matter what box I belonged in because there wasn’t one… I got to just be me.
Once again, I really appreciate you both for taking the time to open the floor for this much-needed discussion and with so many different experiences people have, I hope my perspective can help broaden the scope. God Bless you both for kick starting this journey and I pray that with it, we all gain a better level of understanding and respect for each other.
Thanks, Jennifer for adding your input to this dialog, especially from your unique experience. I hope in time we can come to the realities you hope for, but it’s going to take some work. Thank you.