How My White Colleagues Talk About Race

They say things like “all people are equal or we are all the same.” Essentially what they are saying about race is nothing at all. They talk about race like it does not exist. When they try to talk about race, they use these empty phrases that subconsciously say “can we change the subject?”

Can you really blame white people when it comes to their “deer in the headlights look” when it comes to racial conversations? After all, they are programmed from an early age that racial issues are the domain of people of color.

According to Jennifer Harvey, Associate Professor of Religion at Drake University, black parents talk about race with their kids on average by the time they are 3 years old. White parents start talking to their children about race on average when they are 13 years old.

What makes this “racial achievement gap” even more perplexing is another study that shows that 3-year-old children across all races in pre-school have the ability to process racial interactions.

Professor Harvey has a unique view of white people’s lack of a racial vocabulary. She gives an annual writing assignment to her students by asking them the simple question, “What is the most important thing your parents taught you about race?”

Her white student responses are almost identical. Our parents taught us that everyone is equal. Yet in the space of a 4-page assignment, the same students hide the fact from their parents that they are dating someone of another race or shudder to ask their parents if they could bring a friend of color home for Thanksgiving dinner.

The same narrative exists in the federal sector as white people attempt to defend their racial legacy. I hear comments like this all the time from my white co-workers.

• I married a person of color.
• I have traveled extensively around the world.
• My family was oppressed like yours.
• You are so brave for talking about racism.

Then in the same breath, these well versed white people will crack a racist joke or let loose a racial slur.

We are drowning in a racial narrative dominated by tolerance, sensitivity and coexistence.

If everyone is equal, then why does inequality still exists? It is too painful to talk about. So let’s not talk about it at all.

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