Can We Talk

I AGREE WITH Andrea Ayvazian and Beverly Daniel Tatum when they call for meetings in which participants of all races are encouraged to express their ideas and feelings about racial issues in a safe atmosphere ("Can We Talk?" January-February 1996). Unfortunately, I get the impression that the authors' idea of what constitutes "dialogue" is an unbalanced one in which black people do all the talking and white people do all the listening. That's not true dialogue-it's politically correct indoctrination and you can count me out.

White people may have a different perspective than blacks as a group, but it doesn't necessarily follow that the disparity is the result of ignorance on the part of white people. The sociopathic behavior patterns documented in the superb book The End of Racism (by Dinesh D'Souza) and in daily newspapers throughout the land are all too real. Denying those patterns or irresponsibly blaming them on "institutional racism" will not alleviate the problems they cause, nor will it facilitate genuine healing dialogue between the races.

None of this is to deny that racism exists in this country, or that it needs to be dealt with when it exists. But there are many for whom "racism" has become a mindless, knee-jerk response to any and all criticism, regardless of whether or not the criticism has merit and regardless of whether or not it is racially motivated.

Mark Pettigrew
Chicago, Illinois

Andrea Ayvazian and Beverly Daniel Tatum respond:

One of the guidelines we use in our anti-racism workshops is that "we can agree to disagree." We find that we may need to invoke the same guideline in response to Mark Pettigrew's letter. Of course, in dialogue all parties need to participate-both as talkers and listeners. However, we have observed that white people are often so uncomfortable when they hear black people talk about racism that they discount and invalidate the information. It is this pattern that we are seeking to interrupt. In our opinion, white people historically have constructed the public discourse in this country. One dimension of that discourse has been an active avoidance of honest discussions about race.

Unlike Dinesh D'Souza, of the American Enterprise Institute, we do not think racism has come to an end. Consequently, there is still a great deal of work to do to combat personal, cultural, and institutional racism in this country. James Baldwin wrote: "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." Talking about racism is an essential part of facing racism and, we hope, changing it. It is not the only part, but we think these dialogues are an important step on the journey to justice.


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