Our friend Ron Jones, an improv comedian, was part of a traveling show called The Black Jew Dialogues with fellow actor, Larry Tish, for many years. Ron is the “Black” part of the troupe and Larry the “Jew”. The show is a series of hilariously provocative skits about the dynamics of race and what they call “a comedic romp through 2 cultures” which includes skits such as one in which Ron and Larry comically argue about whose people have been more persecuted.
Ron and Larry always close by inviting the audience to discuss their reactions to the show. At one of their performance that Rebecca was able to attend, an African-American women said she was distressed that white people were so defensive when it came to talking about race because they don’t want to be accused of being racist. Rebecca stood up and admitted that she could easily be called racist because she frequently experiences racist thoughts.
Rebecca did not share this because she is proud of it or wanted to be provocative. She did so because, as Ron and Larry have said, dialoguing about these things helps dissipate the fear and anxiety they evoke. For example Daryl Davis, African-American R&B singer, has interviewed and made friends with many members of the KKK, and Arno Michaelis, a former Nazi Skinhead who was shown forgiveness by many f the people he had attacked, now devotes his life to helping people tell their stories in order to bridge racial divides. Yes, such conversations can be loaded, but having them can help reduces their volatility.
Oddly enough, at the end of the show, an African-American man approached Rebecca and thanked her for her honesty. Not everyone would be as gracious as he was and Rebecca was not looking to be celebrated, but he said that it can be exhausting trying to reassure people (especially white people but really all people) who were paranoid of being called racist.
It’s not flattering to reveal that one thinks and maybe even behaves in biased and prejudiced ways; however, making it less taboo and more approachable might reduce the stigma and open up the dialogue. For example, Don Lemon, news anchor for CNN, suggested recently that if you grow up in America, you grow up racist. Whether you agree with him or not, we might be more relaxed about issues of race if we didn’t need to defend whether we are or are not racist but how we might be either intentionally or unintentionally engaging in biased thoughts and behaviors. And when we say “we”, we suggest that everyone is included.
Mind you, because the factors that have contributed to racial divides in this country are so complex, this alone is not going to resolve the matter. However, they might make conversations around race relations more encouraging and less frightening.
Ron, who now runs an organization called Dialogues on Diversity, has written an interesting blog about what he calls “the Five Things” (Money, Politics, Religion, and Race) that we avoid addressing in “polite” public forums. He identifies what he perceives to be some of the factors that heighten racial inequities and about which we need to dialogue more:
1. We are, first, creature of comfort. When we have the power to do so, we often do not challenge what would take us out of our comfort zone.
2. The majority (or dominant culture) bends the world to its will. Why? See number 1.
3. We are, more than anything else our story (Narrative). True or false. Right or wrong. Our stories frame our reality.
4. The dominant narrative Is usually the narrative of privilege. All privilege comes with a cost.
5. Our narratives are intermingled, dirty and complicated. Those complications do not serve power or privilege. Why? See number 1. So, we simplify.
6. Our inability to hear and understand the range non-dominant narratives will make us more emotionally and intellectually fragile and calcified as a society over time. This will come with a great cost (click here to visit his blog).
As Ron says, we are our narratives and part of exploring those narratives includes seeing “the diversity in self, so that you can see it in others.” We would suggest that this means exploring your racial narratives and unpacking your racial heritage. You can use the practice of mindfulness to do so–trying, with as little judgement as possible, to be more aware of racial dynamics (both yours and others).
You might note the irony that we are suggesting a practice that is “non-judgmental” to examine our judmentalism. But this is the best place to start. Just observe yourself and your thoughts and beliefs about race. That will help you attune both to your own narrative but also that of others.
In upcoming newsletters, we will continue exploring tools that encourage dialogue and help reduce the negative impact of entrenched racial divides.
Blessings and love to you all, Rebecca and Gioia
Use creative journaling to tell your “race” story, whatever it is. You can also do some artwork about the first time you became aware of racial differences. Share your story with someone else. You can also ask someone else to share their story. Feel free to share any comments about this process on our Facebook page.