Black history month is officially coming to an end, so it’s rather apropos that I’ve spent the past week lecturing and speaking on the topic of race in contemporary America.
This past Wednesday, I lectured about cultural competency to participants of Public Allies (Maryland chapter), housed at the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Public Allies is a great public service leadership program for individuals 18 to 30. I don’t think it’s possible to be culturally competent in this country without an open dialogue about race. I really wanted to zero in on racial inequities and black-white relations in Baltimore City, then also branch out into the broader racial dynamics at play. It was a great conversation. We discussed Pat Buchanan, the concept of “colorblindness,” black skepticism towards whites, the extremely tone deaf “If I Was a Poor Black Kid,” and the racial dimensions of education reform, using this great interview between my friend and neighbor Edit Barry and Morgan State University professor Ray Winbush as a springboard.
On Saturday, I read for the New Mercury Reading series, a fantastic venue for nonfiction writers to command an engaged audience. In my writings on race, I really attempt to explore my own thoughts and prejudices, somewhat hiding behind the anonymity of print journalism. However, reading my work in public removes that thin veil, so being exposed, even to a welcoming audience, made me just a bit nervous. And talking about something as provocative and uncomfortable as race can always lead to interesting outcomes. That said, because race is something that is so uncomfortable for people, I thought it was an important topic to discuss, particularly because so much of my writing attempts to explore it. It also helped that Stacey Patton, a great journalist and essayist, read before me, preparing the audience for a talk on race by presenting her essay on black participation in Occupy Wall Street. I highly recommend that you read it.
It’s important that we continue to dialogue about racial dynamics (and sexuality, gender, class, religion, etc.) in a responsible way. Often I get the question, why do you always need to talk about race? To be silent about race is one way to have a conversation about race. Racial dynamics (disparities, marginalization, fractured relationships) persist whether or not you discuss them. But only in discussing race, intelligently and deliberately, do we move a step closer to addressing race. And we have a great deal of work to do before we can address it.