I often get some pushback from folks when I begin talking about race. Why, they want to know, do you bring up race so often? The answer is simple. I have studied, taught and researched race for more than forty years. My position at the UNC was Director of Diversity Education, Research and Assessment, so it was my job. Race is not just interesting to me, it is fascinating. Not as a painful or ugly or divisive subject, but as an exploration of human beings and their attitudes, beliefs, ideals, and biases. What are they based on? Where did they learn them?
I have not been the personal object of much racism. No one has ever called me a racial slur, at least not to my face. I have had the usual bumps up against racists and racism, mostly when I was younger. I have had to endure the usual angst when things happen that are obviously the result of racism that all people of conscience have to deal with. But, I have not been exposed to much directed racism the way some people of color have.
That means I can study and research the subject with some objectivity and little pain. And it is interesting. Not only is it interesting to study the culture, language, behavior, food, taboos, biases, interactions and misconceptions of different races, it is interesting to study changing demographics that make the subject of race quite relevant. When I went to UNC in 2003 the USA white population, non-Hispanic, was around 75% of the population. The US Census now says that non-Hispanic whites account for 60.4% of the population. That is a significant change in 16 years and is a continuing trend. What will that mean in the future? Surely everyone must find that topic of interest no matter their race.
Discussing race makes some people very uncomfortable because they think you are going to make it a question of villain and victim, but it does not have to be that way. Race, like any subject having to do with human beings, is a complex and variable subject. Blanket statements about one group or another can always be refuted with facts and history. True, we have to discuss history, some of it ugly, like slavery, the Trail of Tears, etc., which still impacts people today, but that is only part of a discussion about race.
We need to discuss race more often, more calmly and without anger. We need to learn from and about each other. We need to make an effort to interact more with people who are different. It is difficult to be afraid or contemptuous of a group when you have friends that belong to that group.
Our dealings with race have been hampered by several factors including continued segregation in many places. If you do not interact with different races it is easy to hold on to stereotypes and untruths about them and base your taught biases on those fallacies.
So, do dabble in race talk, discuss it with folks who are able to not be defensive or overly emotional on the subject. There are fascinating subjects to be explored from origins of slang to cultural “borrowing” of customs, increasing interracial marriages, traditions and more. Talk about who taught you about race and if you found out they were right or wrong. Make rules about being respectful of other viewpoints, ask questions and listen to the answers, be honest.
Race is not a subject to be avoided, particularly in a changing time.
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and guest columnist.