We humans

When we’re all color-brave, what will that look like?

May 5, 2014 /

Mellody Hobson’s talk asks us to be open about race — not to avoid talking about it.

The news this past few weeks has been full of people who have great big opinions about race. And some of them are — not to put a fine point on it — jerks.

Two widely covered examples from the US just in the past two weeks: A basketball team owner, Donald Sterling, a white man, warned his girlfriend about “associating with black people.” (Note, it was a private conversation.) And remember rancher Cliven Bundy and his thoughtful opinions on slavery? (No link, please.)

Just as bad money drives out good, jerks drive out non-jerks, which causes this idea to ferment and grow: Sharing thoughts about race, especially in some parts of white US culture, isn’t done, isn’t appropriate. To the point that, as a study from Michael Norton showed, some white people will twist themselves into knots to avoid mentioning race even when it’s relevant.

This is not the only conversation we know how to have.

In April 2014, ProPublica released a stunning story on US school segregation by race — showing that, 50 years after the battles to desegregate, schools effectively re-segregated. In the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the story focuses, kids go to the “black high school” or the “mixed high school” as if no one had ever marched on Washington.

(And this is important because the data shows that kids at the “black high school” have measurably lower outcomes in further education and lifetime income. The two schools should have identical stats, and these two simply don’t. This is not about optics, this is about kids’ lives and futures, and measurable data. End of sermon.)

Yet attached to this story are gorgeous testimonials to the power and challenges of interracial education and conversation. Check out these “six-word essays” on race and education from students at the two high schools ProPublica studied — and more essays solicited from their audience. Jump in and write your own if you’re moved to. When a safe space is offered to talk, people will talk.

Hobson asks us to create more of those safe spaces to talk — to say, when you can: I’m open to hearing you, and being heard.

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Image: Selma to Montgomery marches, 1965 by Peter Pettus, Library of Congress