Let's Talk About RaceMarch 17, 2010 3 Comments
I had the great fortune of attending the Kirwan Institute‘s conference – Transforming Race: Crisis and Opportunity in the Age of Obama – in Columbus, Ohio last week. Among many great sessions – including two by Cynthia Silva Parker and Melinda Weekes of IISC – was a track about “Race Talk”– the importance of talking explicitly about race.
The conversation had a lot to do with the difference between the implicit attitudes we have (our internalized attitudes about race) and our explicit attitudes (what we believe about ourselves and our values). It reminded me of research I read a couple of years ago by Samuel Gaertner and John Dovidio, social scientists who showed the difference between our implicit attitudes (which tend to be very racialized) and our values (which these days tend to be about things like equality and opportunity).
To oversimplify the research being presented at the conference, one might say that unlike the days of “historical racism”, in which implicit and explicit attitudes were much more aligned, most people currently have significant dissonance between implicit and explicit attitudes. So what can be done to help shift implicit attitudes? Over and over, research presented by people like Drew Westen, the Center for Social Inclusion and others found that engaging in carefully designed conversations about race makes all the difference. When done well, explicit conversations strengthen explicit frames and help to support a shift in our implicit attitudes.
As someone who has struggled over the years to shift my own racialized attitudes – and who has at times been frustrated with not being able to move the conversation forward, I found this research incredibly exciting and hopeful. There are ways to move forward! And still much to learn – about how to engage these unconscious places in ourselves and others and create change. (We can’t make it all personal – and need to keep our eyes on the structural nature of much of what’s wrong – learning to shift the structures that keep things separate and unequal.)? But on the level of having these explicit conversations about race, what are the ways that work best? What stories engage and strengthen our explicit frames while starting to create the shifts? I’m wondering what you’ve tried, what you’ve heard, what you understand. What can you share that will help us create the shifts we need?