Alex Barnett asks, “How do we get to a place where it is the overwhelming rule (not the exception) that the few in the crowd who are different than the majority can feel comfortable and at ease and be accepted?”
Recently, I attended a conference where the participants overwhelmingly were White men. I don’t know the actual percentages, but if someone told me that the breakdowns were 95% White men, 3% White women, and 2% “Other” I’d believe them.
As I observed this, it got me to thinking about what it must be like to be the other. What is it like to spend hours or days in the company of a majority of people who don’t look like you?
This was not just idle musing. My wife and I are an interracial couple (she’s Black, and I’m White), and we have a 3-year-old Biracial son. I, thus, have a close, personal interest in issues about race and whether the visual (or other) perception of race leads people to be set apart or not included or ostracized.
For my son, I imagine this may well turn out to be a very complex issue. Indeed, multiracial guests that I’ve interviewed on my podcast The Multiracial Family Man have said as much. .
Thus, my son, as a Biracial person, may well be able to “blend in” or “pass” in groups that are majority White or majority Black. Indeed, right now, his complexion is quite light, so it may be the case that in a room that is filled to the gills and busting at the seams with White people, no one will think that he is other than White. But, he will know, and I wonder what he will think about in such a setting.
In addition, assuming again that my son “blends into” a White crowd, what happens if White people near him (operating under the assumption that there are no people of color in attendance) tell a racist joke or make a negative racial comment? This is not just a hypothetical musing about “what if?” I’ve had my own experiences where I’ve been in rooms or crowds with all White people, and someone has told a racist joke. I know how troubling and disconcerting that’s been to me as a person of conscience, but also, in particular, as the husband of a Black woman. Given that, I imagine that my son, if he experiences something like this, will feel even more acutely angry and frustrated – angry about the comment or joke and frustrated by the fact that while he thought he was accepted and fit in, the comments demonstrate that, in fact, he was not and did not (at least not fully).
I realize that there are going to be times when crowds are going to be racially or ethnically imbalanced. And my assumption is that frequently, in such instances, no instances of exclusion occur. But, I also assume that still, today, far too often there are instances of exclusion (if not through conscious word or deed, then through subconscious behavior).
So, how do we get to a place where it is the overwhelming rule (not the exception) that the few in the crowd who are different than the majority can feel comfortable and at ease and be accepted?
I don’t pretend to have the answer to that question. In fact, I’m sure there’s more than one answer. But, at least one answer, I assume, is that we have to be better able to talk about differences in people’s race, without implying or inferring value judgments when talking about those differences.
Photo: Ron Cogswell/Flickr