Talking about race in a public setting?

Talking about race in a public setting can end in many ways. If talking loudly someone else, who might not agree, could feel compelled to give their opinion. I personally don’t think that has to be a bad thing because both parties could walk away with something new learned. Or, it could end in angry people who don’t agree to act in a negative way to you and your friends and it could get dangerous very quickly. But what I find happens most of the time, is that people just give looks of some kind and it usually makes the other people, originally involved in the conversation, to feel uncomfortable. Especially of those involved are white, and we are talking about race.

I remember being in the dining hall with a couple of friends and having a very open conversation about race and privilege (but I don’t remember what exactly we were talking about). I was the only person of color at the table and we were all essentially on the same page when talking about the issue. We were also trying to understand the one guy who I talked to about the issue a while back, disagreed and got angry. But one of my friends (lets call her bob) at the table suddenly started lowering her voice, and I noticed that she was looking away from the table and behind where I was sitting. When I turned around the people directly behind me were looking at our table and rolled their eyes at me and started eating their food again.

By this point most of the people at the table were visibly uncomfortable and started lowering their voices. Naturally, instead of lowering my voice, I started talking louder. Bob tried to get me to lower my voice, and I instead responded by openly saying (in the nicest way that I could) that I had a right to my opinions and that if anyone opposed those opinion or strongly disagreed with them, that I would be more then happy to have a dialogue with them about it. I realize it was passive aggressive and probably made it less appealing to want to talk about it, but it was more of a knee jerk reaction. But it made my friends start talking at a normal volume again, which is a benefit of what happened.

In a situation like this what do you think you would have done? Would you have ignored the people glaring behind you? Would you have reacted differently then I did?

3 thoughts on “Talking about race in a public setting?

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Julisa! It seems to me that you interrupted the flow of the group of students behind you, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Looking back, I notice that you didn’t mention whether those students were White or students of color; considering White fragility, I just assumed that they were White. Those students were probably made uncomfortable because they’re used to ignoring race completely in conversation, and if you forced them to think about it even just a little more critically, I think it was a net win. Important interactions that make a difference are often uncomfortable, so props to you!

  2. I’m also reminded really strongly of the point that there’s no one right way to do race talk, but there can be a lot of wrong ways. Race is a very emotional topic, and it’s not unusual to have these knee-jerk emotional reactions to it. But I think in perhaps being open, upfront, and clear that you will defend yourself and have a serious conversation about it, you might’ve made someone, anyone, think about the fact that race is a serious topic that’s not to be brushed off, and that people are willing to stand up for what they think is right. Maybe someone won’t be so quick to roll their eyes at someone talking about privilege next time.

  3. I think this situation really highlights the complexities of race talk. It reminds me of a conversation we had in class, talking about net wins and net losses. Because there really is no one right way to do race talk, I liked the idea of being able to think about the overall net worth of a conversation after the fact.

What do you think? Join the conversation!