Lucretia Berry • March 7, 2023
Race/ism touches every aspect of our lives – identity, interpersonal relationships, access to healthcare and food, our finances, where we live, go to school, work, gather to worship, and play – yet we struggle to talk about it coherently, confidently, and in ways that help us create a society free of race/ism.
Here are five reasons that people find it difficult to talk about race/ism.
ONE: Lack of understanding.
Race/ism is a complex topic that requires a certain level of understanding and knowledge. Many people feel ill-equipped to discuss such issues because they lack education and experience. Race/ism is like gravity, in that all of us know about it and experience it, but most of us don’t have an informed understanding of how it actually operates.
TWO: Lack of historical context.
The history of race/ism makes the topic particularly sensitive, as its origins and practices are rooted in painful and traumatic events. In the U.S., for example, standardized historical narratives center European colonial conquests and contributions, while omitting the history of how race/ism was constructed and implemented as a method to divide and conquer the working poor (of every ethnic group). With the exception of land-owning White males, the historical accounts of the fight for liberation for other people groups are excluded.
THREE: Social stigma.
Race/ism can be seen as a taboo topic in some social circles, making it difficult to broach the subject without fear of negative reactions. As such, many people are afraid of saying the wrong thing or unintentionally offending someone, which leads to avoiding the topic altogether.
FOUR: Personal discomfort.
Some people may feel uncomfortable talking about race/ism because it invokes feelings of sorrow, shame, or anger. This is especially the case in settings where people don’t feel psychologically safe to feel their feelings, like debates and discussions in public.
FIVE: Power dynamics.
Race/ism is intertwined with power dynamics, which can make it difficult to have productive conversations across groups when one party is dominant and the other is marginalized. In addition, people in dominant groups and people in marginalized groups lack a shared language and mutual understanding, which contributes to gaping holes in communication.
These are just a few of the reasons why people may find it challenging to talk about race/ism. Can you relate to any of these? Ultimately, talking about race/ism is hard because race is a lie and racism is ugly and painful. However, if we want ethnically diverse communities where race does not matter and racism does not have a stronghold, then we have to gain competency and confidence. We must get comfortable talking about race/ism.
For more on this topic, I recommend checking out
The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s “Talking About Race.” (https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race
My 2017 Ted Talk, “If we don’t keep them in the dark, our children will light up the world.” https://youtu.be/q0YDt64IWFU
Social Justice Engineering Design’s “Talking About Racial Inequality” https://www.sj-ed.org/navigatingconversations
Lucretia is a former college professor, who founded Brownicity with the purpose of making scholarly-informed, antiracism education accessible in order to inspire a culture of true belonging and justice for all. Her TED Talk, ‘Children will light up the world if we don’t keep them in the dark’ (2017) is well received, as well as her books and courses: