While race is a social construct, the impact of that construct is real. We hear people (mainly people who identify as white) say things like “I don’t see race,” “I’m not prejudiced,” or “we live or should live in a post-racial society.” Aside from being surface-level and uninformed assessments, these positions are how many of us continually avoid having authentic conversations about race. Many of us convince ourselves that it’s a nonissue because we rightly intuit that it shouldn’t be an issue; we truly want to believe in a world that is equitable and rooted in understanding and compassion. But we also have a tendency to avoid doing the harder work to seek and gain that understanding.
The sensitivity around race keeps well-intentioned people from talking about it in productive and transformative ways. For most of us, race is a subject that we haven’t even approached with some of our closest friends. I know that personally, I had spoken with dozens of friends and colleagues about some of life’s most intimate subjects, but race was always something we left on the periphery, despite its omnipresence.
Most of us don’t have the confidence in ourselves and our knowledge to discuss the subject without causing harm to our relationships. We have doubts. Is this question appropriate to ask? Can I express this opinion without giving offense? How can I seek clarity about this assumption? Is something I’m saying or a behavior I’m displaying ignorant or prejudiced?
We can only get these answers—correct our assumptions, right our behaviors, and learn that our experiences as humans do more to unite us than divide us—if we’re willing to have authentic conversations about race.
I made the decision in 2000 to start having these conversations, and they transformed my life and deepened my relationships with the people who joined me. Our conversations were held without judgments and devoid of defensiveness and anger. Any negative feelings that arose or corrections that needed to be made were entirely constructive. The exchanges came from a place of generosity. We were both able to be vulnerable and share our experiences because there was nothing adversarial about the environment we had created. It was collaborative and enriching.
After each of these conversations I’ve had, my partners and I shared a more profound level of understanding, friendship, respect, and love for one another. This can be true for anyone who chooses to engage in an authentic conversation about race. You will be pushed out of your comfort zone, but it will be worth it, for you personally and for society at large.
While we’ve made good progress as individuals on improving how we approach race, more work needs done – work that can’t begin until we start having these kinds of conversations on the subject. Reliance on institutions to correct the problems surrounding race has proven to be increasingly challenging, discouraging and alienating. We need to heed the advice of Indian spiritual leader, Osho, who says, “There can be no political revolution, no social revolution, no economic revolution. The only revolution is that of the spirit; it is individual. And if millions of individuals change, then society will change as a consequence, not vice versa. You cannot change the society first and hope that individuals will change later on.”
When we choose to have authentic conversations about race, we are choosing to engage with race and address our problems on an individual level with open and honest communication. We are creating a space that can spark real change.
If you’re interested in joining the spiritual revolution and having authentic conversations about race that enrich your life and deepen your relationships, check out the Resources available on my website and download your free “Authentic Conversations about Race” toolkit.