A new video from Mashable Watercooler begins with the statement, “White people want to talk about race, but don’t know where to start… so we sat down and started talking.” The video features four black participants, describing how white people discuss race. They point out the ways that even their most well-intentioned white acquaintances can end up falling back on black stereotypes and offer some advice about where to start much-needed discussions of race in America.
The video’s participants joke about some of the assumptions that white people make about them upon first meeting. One guy recalls how, when he tells someone he’s a musician, he often get’s the automatic response, “Oh, cool. I like jazz!”; he adds, “That happens more often than you’d believe.” He and another participant laugh about how often white people will bring up The Wire when talking to them, as if, they explain, “you’ve got to show your badge, that you’re, like, ‘black approved.’”
These tone-deaf, if well-meaning, responses point to a larger problem — a widespread assumption among many white people that black people are all basically the same, and that the ‘black experience’ is a single thing. One of the guys points out that white people are often allowed a diversity of experience that people of color aren't, saying,
There are all different types of white people, but for some reason, they think all black people talk this one way, and act this one way, and, you know, we all like sneakers and listen to Wu-Tang or whatever.
A female participant in the video explains that many well-intentioned white people are simply uncomfortable with talking about race — but that this discomfort often means she’s put in “charge” of dealing with it:
I find that the well-meaning white people thing often boils down to ‘I don’t know how to do this really hard, difficult work, so I’m just gonna kind of put it in your lap to deal with.’ That’s a burden…. [I]t presumes that, as a person of color, I know everything about being a person of color.’
The people in this video aren't attempting to dissuade white people from discussing race, but to encourage them to think about the way they do so, and to check the assumptions they make (even unconsciously) about people of color. The woman describes a change she’s seeing in our culture right now,
These conversations are sort of bubbling to the surface, and people who are not a part of those communities are now starting to hear those conversations that don’t necessarily represent their identities… I feel like people are kind of catching on.
The fact that people are bound to make missteps when discussing this difficult and complex topic doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t try to have conversations about it. The important thing, she suggests, is to be open to making (and acknowledging) mistakes: "Just accept the premise that you are going to be wrong. That is part of being a human person."
Images: YouTube (3)