This stuff is hard…

For so many reasons, talking about race and prejudice is hard. Here’s an example of why it can be so confusing and discouraging and why so many of us stop doing it.

Last night on the news I saw an amazing story about a new salon in our city that caters to African Americans, the first of its kind. Much needed and long overdue! The owner described it as a “salon for colored people.” My stomach clenched and I thought “oh no, is that right?” Sure. For her, it was.

Now, if I asked Jebeh if she was okay being called “colored,” I know for a fact she’d say “_____ no!” In fact, she has a post in the cue about this very topic.

Some of you might say this isn’t about race or prejudice, it’s about language; but language is how we make sense of our experiences. It connects us (or not) to other people. It’s what defines us as human. Without language and communication we lose the essence of what it means to be human.

So, can we ever do it right?

For me, the goal has become to reach a level of competency and awareness that allows me to recognize my own reactions and the reactions of people around me…to know when different cultural norms or rules may apply (and not always in obvious ways). To know when certain language is appropriate and when it’s not. Like everything, we can’t always be perfect – as things that come out of my kids mouth can attest.

I struggle when people say, “I’m just who I am, I can’t/won’t change that.” Or, “I just say what I think/want, I’m not trying to offend anyone.”

Think about it this way. Do you say the same things in front of a classroom of toddlers as you do on a night out with your girlfriends? Or do you adapt your language and speech when you are speaking to toddlers, to friends, when you are in a business meeting, a locker room, or a hospital? I hope so. You should. This is communication (and cultural to a degree) competency.

You might be asking, so what am I saying…be curious, but don’t ask the wrong thing. Be open, but don’t share the wrong feelings. Oh, and the wrong thing is relative to the person, the situation, and likely the culture or place in which you are immersed.

Yes, kind of. But I’m also saying that you already have the ability and the power to be an effective, compassionate, and competent communicator, IF you are willing to put in the work to recognize and understand the person and culture in which you are interacting. And, IF you are willing to do some serious reflecting about why you think what you think, feel what you feel, and believe what you believe. Because, everyone’s perspective is based on their life experiences – and none of those are exactly the same.

Exhausting? Yes, it can be. Rewarding? Yes, definitely!