Can We Talk?

  • An African-American woman notices that as she enters a room full of friends and colleagues—all white—the conversation stops when she walks through the door.
  • An African-American man is routinely followed by the local police as he drives through a suburban community on his way to work. When he tells his white colleagues at work, his story is met with disbelief.

THESE VIGNETTES are representative of the many stories we have heard as a biracial team that has provided hundreds of anti-racism training seminars and consultations nationwide. We ask people—white and of color—to talk about a subject that folks are usually careful to avoid: race relations and racism in the United States today.

With the Simpson verdict and the Million Man March behind us, the desire to avoid potentially painful and difficult discussions has become even more intense. At the same time, many people are confused about why there is still such a deep racial divide in this country.

Recently in our travels, we have noticed that while people are reticent to discuss issues of race and racism in public, they pull us aside and ask us in whispered tones what we really think, or they explain their own theories to us behind closed doors. Even in these guarded conversations, we have been struck by a discernible change in tone. Suddenly, it seems, white people are seeing the racial divide as looming larger than before. Race, so often dismissed by white people as an insignificant factor in contemporary U.S. society, has acquired meaning—meaning that they were working hard to ignore. There seems to be a veiled sense of panic in their conversation.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1996
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