Issues surrounding race were in no way a part of the curriculum of the conference I attended last week.
But a conversation evolved organically, in a group of 30 people who had never met each other only a day and a half previously.
The following discussion took place in the context of the concept of understanding the factions existing in any group of people who get together to work on a common goal.
Black gentleman, clearly taking a risk:
“I would like to explain something that I think many people in this room are not aware of. Any time a larger group of people contains a subset of black individuals, especially in a place like Kansas where black people are a distinct minority, those black people in the room will invariably make some kind of contact with each other in order to form a sort of coalition. In addition, that group of black people will work hard NOT to disagree with each other before the larger group, feeling that they must support one another in the face of the majority.”
Much conversation ensued around this comment, with a great deal of honesty and with much learning taking place.
White gentleman, with sincerity:
“Please help me understand what I can do, now that I’m aware of this, to make such a situation better for you.”
“The first thing I would suggest is that you must understand your privilege.”
Much more conversation, with at least three white people in the room bravely stating that they have absoloutely no concept of what could possibly be meant by the term “white privilege.” I stay out of the discussion, while dying a little inside. These are, based on my observation over the time we’ve had together, good and kind people. Not people who would stand out in any way as being racist or bigoted. But people who have never in their lives considered what it must be like to be a marginalized minority.
It was a very heavy discussion, throughout which I had the distinct impression that this group of 30 people were subtly doing the work of making substantive change in a problem that still significantly plagues our society.
But as this conversation took place, a very quiet and unassuming young man tried to interject another viewpoint three different times. Three different times he was ignored in favor of the louder voices intent on discussing black/white issues. This young Latino man simply had this to say: “There is another minority in the room that is being completely left out of consideration here.”
He was absolutely correct.
We have such a long way to go.