My two most recent blogs (on sexual pleasure and the ironies of racism) likely suggests some deep-seated frustrations and rage that I harbor with respect to racism. Having seen two Broadway shows about race (Race and Ragtime) with my parents during our family vacation to New York City, I seem to be stuck on reflecting on nothing but race at the moment. I likely exhausted my mother, who eventually stayed completely removed from any conversations that were about race, and I know that I’ve said even more radical things to make my father worry that I’ve become a modern day Black Panther. Even when there is not significant disagreement, which is actually fairly common for me and my parents, I find myself angry and irritated – angry at them, at myself, at the world, at history, at the future.
To be blunt, I hate race. I hate thinking about it and I especially hate talking about it. When race comes up in conversation, I always feel as though the ignorable lines become visible – whites become “them” and people of color become “us.” No longer are people unique individuals, rather they become mere representatives of their race. Most of these conversations become a game of musical chairs to see what person will be left with no anti-racist chair and, thus, labeled “racist.” I have known no other matter to be as divisive as the topic of race. (I feel a twinge of guilt when the image of my father’s hurt face comes to my mind the day that I accused him of being racist, just seconds before getting out of the car to fly back to Indiana. I prefer to say “take care, see you next time”, not “that’s racist! see you next time.”) The idea that people are assumed to be this or that, have access to this or that, come from this history or that is disgusting to me. Though I’d like to think that people can freely connect and love across race, the reality is that people connect or not with race as a strong consideration. So many more connections have been missed than have been made because of race. Nothing about race, in my opinion, is positive – even the notion of pride in one’s self is too closely connected to survival in a racist world.
Unfortunately, I have to have these conversations. I have to include a strong focus on race in my research and teaching on inequality. I have to be aware of the real significance of race in our society. Though I understand why so many others simply push race to the periphery because of the divisive nature of the phenomenon, I cannot simply float through life with ambiguously brown skin. The difficult conversations about race and racism are all too important with the pervasiveness of traditional, explicit and modern, subtle racism today. Too many people would rather we don’t talk about race, but ignoring it would be more harmful, as racism would continue to operate in our interactions, organizations, institutions, and culture. It isn’t talking about race that creates racial inequality; if anything, we need way more cross-racial discussions about race and racism to dispel myths and stereotypes, break down barriers, bring about collective understanding and sympathy, and to force people to be more comfortable critiquing and talking about race and racism.
This post serves to say that I don’t find joy or pleasure in discussing race. I don’t seek to bring up race willy nilly “just because.” I hate how great the potential is that all parties leave the conversation hurt, offended, and distanced from each other. Until everyone is more comfortable talking about, thinking about, and critiquing race and racism, I’ll have to continue to push myself to have these difficult, draining conversations. I’ll have to continue to connect race and racism to my work on inequality when it is not the primary focus. I only hope it gets easier with continued progress toward racial equality.