America’s Race Conversation

A look into how Americans are peeking into the history and culture that creates us, that many have tried to continually ignore

This week I went to a community discussion in Syracuse, NY about the recent rally in Charlottesville, and how to counter white supremacy in America. The room was packed and vibrated with the humid air of a hundred people packed into a church basement. At the front of the room was a panel that centered five people of color: a woman from Planned Parenthood, a man who works for the ACLU and specializes in countering extremist groups in America, a clan mother of the local Native American tribe the Onondaga Nation and a member of the International Socialists Organization.

Following is a collection of memorable moments from the evening. Read on for outbursts, white fragility, a relearning of history and current day culture and plans for revolution.

The fact that the threat of white nationalistic terrorism has been how America has operated for hundreds of years does not mean that it has to continue the racist national policies of poverty and segregation.

Queue the speaker from the Socialist organization:

“Not only in the US do we like to divide to conquer, but we also do this abroad. Every time we bomb another country we whip up hatred against who we’re bombing.

At this point in the meeting, the presenter from the ACLU began to speak again about white fragility, and how white people need to learn to separate themselves from their “whiteness” before we can have real and transformative conversations. Suddenly a white middle aged man yells out from the back of the room:

The room goes silent, as this white man spews anger at the presenter, and interrupts the whole meeting. The presenter, who is a black man, sits back and listens patiently. As members from the audience try to get the white man shouting from the back of the room to be quiet, the presenter says to let the man speak, he wants to make sure that he feels like he’s been heard. After the white man finishes, the presenter speaks directly about what just took place.

As a black man in America, I am always uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable everyday because this world is not built for me, it is built to assault me. I should be angry at that man that just yelled at me, but I have been trained to work harder, be better and settle with half the shit that other people get.

The presenter from the ACLU then explained how white supremacist groups in the US are using the same recruiting tactics as ISIS. They are targeting people who feel outcast from society, and are looking for somewhere to belong.

A member of the local Black Lives Matter group comes to the front of the room, and speaks his mind about how we are looking at white supremacists and neo nazis in the US:

If we dehumanize white supremacists, we are no better than them. We will replicate the same system that oppresses us if we scapegoat white supremacists. We were all raised in this racist society. We must take responsibility for it within ourselves.”

At one point, the presenter from the ACLU says that he does not feel any safer because of what happened in Boston, and the black Muslim woman sitting next to me raises her hands by her head and whispers, “thank you”. Another presenter takes the microphone:

A Black Lives Matter organizer stands up in the crowd, and expresses a few opinions:

At this point, a white lady stands up in the crowd:

At this point, with the second outburst from a heightened person in the room, everyone begins to get on edge a little bit. The white man who had spoke out earlier stormed out of the room, and another man escorted him out. It was all chaotic, and seemed very unorganized and organic. We were getting into the meat of the racial conversation that people rarely talk about in America, but is ever present in our lives- even if we are privileged enough to be able to ignore it.

“Kumbaya is not going to fix the problem right now. We have to really discuss these issues.”

Another impassioned white person shouts from the audience again.

“A lot of white people have died fighting for racial justice! You have to recognize that! The Civil War, the Civil Rights movement…” the man goes on and on while the majority of people in the audience groan.

These outbursts by the white folks in the room is what is termed by academics as “white fragility:” a state in which even a small amount of racial stress “becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves” according to academic Robin DiAngelo (see White Fragility).

Also, do you think you’re better than the South- that Charlottesville is the South’s problem- and racism is not a problem in the North as well?”

Attempting to move the conversation onward even with all these detours led by white people insecure about their own whiteness, a black woman takes the stage and announces that she is ready.

“I’m ready for something to happen. We’re losing our kids in the streets- the police literally come from the practice of slave patrols.

The meeting continued on for awhile after that, and I think most people in the room left with unresolved feelings and emotions. But that’s because this is an ongoing conversation, the racial conversation in America is not going to be solved overnight, because we have all grown up in a society where we were not encouraged to discuss these issues, or even analyse them in ourselves before. Much less being critical of the state and the racist systems that inhabit it.

Anyway, I won’t provide a clear end to this article, because this conversation is just beginning for many Americans. And we have a long way to go. Let’s go.

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midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe —

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