Let’s Talk

by Sarah James

by Sarah James

By Gabrielle. Illustration by Sarah James.

Last Friday, on my weekend link list post, I mentioned that I wanted to talk about the horrific Charleston shooting with you this week. As I stated then, I don’t know what to do. And I don’t know what to say either. There are deeply smart, endlessly eloquent people that have written, and continue to write, thousands of good, moving words on the subject of race in America, and specifically the brutal killings in Charleston. What can I add to the conversation? Well, probably nothing.

But that’s not the point.

The point is to have the conversation. To talk about this. To not just read and click “like” and move on. But to actually talk about this, to discuss it, to communicate about it. To share an opinion, and to be open to having that opinion change if necessary.

I can read something or follow a hashtag and shake my head in disbelief and shame, but if I don’t speak up and talk about this with everyone that falls within the sound of my voice (or the reach of my blog), then I’m adding to the problem, not helping.

If you have a platform, small or large — a website, a Facebook account, a Twitter account, an Instagram account, an email list, a group of friends at church or on the playground, a family — do you use your platform to help improve things? To discuss our world? To learn? To teach?

If not, why not?

Are you worried that you won’t say the right things? That you won’t be eloquent? Or worse, that you’ll say something offensive without even realizing it? Or maybe you fear you will be attacked? That people will argue with you, or tell you you’re wrong, or call you names?

Well. In this case, your fears and worries are not unfounded. When having these discussions, you’ll very likely say something offensive, sometimes without meaning to. It happens to lots of people. It has certainly happened to me. In fact, there’s a very high likelihood I’ll unknowingly say something offensive in this very post! And when I do mess up, I have to step back, apologize, humble myself, and shut my mouth for awhile while I just listen. But I’ve learned it’s better to take that risk and at least try.

Or perhaps you don’t speak up, because you think you’re above this, and that you’re not racist? Well if you’re white like me, then you very likely are racist. It’s so ingrained in white culture that we don’t even recognize it, and we emotionally collapse when it’s pointed out. The term “white fragility” is new to me, but in my experience it fits. Quoting from this article :

Racism is the norm rather than an aberration. Feedback is key to our ability to recognize and repair our inevitable and often unaware collusion.

In recognition of this, I follow these guidelines:

1. How, where, and when you give me feedback is irrelevant – it is the feedback I want and need. Understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it any way I can get it. From my position of social, cultural, and institutional white power and privilege, I am perfectly safe and I can handle it. If I cannot handle it, it’s on me to build my racial stamina.
2. Thank you.

Or perhaps you don’t talk about racism around your kids because you want to protect them from the bad things that happen in the world? Well, I do understand the instinct there, but the reality is, if you’re not talking to your kids about race in America, it’s because you enjoy a privilege that many don’t.

If you’re raising children of color, you have to talk about race. It’s not a choice. You need to tell your kids what they can wear, what they can say, and how to behave so that they’ll hopefully be treated “normally”. You talk to them in the hopes that you’ll lessen the risk of your unarmed child being shot by someone like George Zimmerman, or by a police officer.

Or perhaps you read about these topics, but find the whole thing too depressing, so you ignore it or turn away? You’re not the only. It is depressing. It is exhausting. And how much are we as individuals bound to engage with it before we get a break? I noticed both Kelly Wickham and Luvvie Ajayi addressing this emotional overwhelm with calls for happy links and happy news. Talking about this doesn’t mean it has to be a non-stop discussion, but ignoring it isn’t an option.

Whatever our hesitation is about having these conversations, we simply can not let our worries and fears about being called names, or being argued with, or being put down, silence us. Our friends, our community members, our fellow citizens are being harrassed, marginalized, and killed. Simply because they are not white. The fear of being called a name is not much of a fear compared to the fear of being shot when pulled over for a traffic violation.

So what do you do? Well, as I’ve said, I don’t know what to do. Sometimes there is an action we can take. People signed petitions to have the confederate flag removed from the South Carolina state capitol. And hooray!, the governor responded. And we can always share an article or repost something. There are probably foundations we can donate to. All good things. But really, if we truly want to help, we can’t avoid the hard work of speaking up.

So let’s have a conversation. Let’s discuss. We can discuss it from any angle you like, and here are some questions that might help prompt the discussion:

– How often does a headline like Charleston or the topic of race come up in your home? Or in your day-to-day conversations?

– What have you read or seen lately that helped you think of the issue in a new light? Please share the link!

– Do you “un-friend” the people in your feed that disagree with you or say racist things, instead of trying to talk to them? I’ve done it. But I probably shouldn’t.

– Have you ever come up with a good example of something like white privilege, and been able to explain it effectively to someone who typically disagrees with you?

– Do your schools have programs that seem to be helping? If yes, what’s working?

– Do you disagree with the premise that we need to talk about this? Are there good reasons not to talk about it?

– Are you trying to figure out how to be an ally to the black community?

– What lines do you draw for yourself? If you’re interacting with someone and they say something casually racist, do you say something about it, or ignore it? What about if you heard someone say something blatantly racist, like the n word. Would you say something? Or ignore it because you don’t want to make trouble?

– Where does the issue of racism overlap with the issue of violence and poverty for you? Do you see the Charleston shooting as more of a gun control issue?

What’s on your mind? I look forward to discussing all of this with you and more. Let’s talk.

P.S. — This #CharlestonSyllabus is a great resource for anyone wanting to read more on the topic of race and the role it plays, and has played, in America.

108 thoughts on “Let’s Talk”

  1. BRAVA!!!!

    You nailed it.

    I am an African American woman who has been reading your blog pre-France and this is the first time I have commented. You are so right, it’s the conversation that needs to be had.

  2. Wonderful post, Gabrielle! Thank you for it, thank you for speaking up and asking us all to do it. I also follow A cup of Jo blog and I saw a comment of someone asking her to speak up too. The comment was erased and I was so disappointed…
    Thank you for making the difference!

  3. I am glad you asked. I have been boiling over with one thing to say: of course, I am glad the Confederate flag is getting taken down. It’s a symbol of slavery, of treason, of losers, of racism. It is as anti-American as bin Laden. There is nothing to honor there. But putting away the flag is not going to prevent the next gun massacre. Only gun control legislation will do that. I called my legislators to tell them I want gun control now. Our country suffers through shootings in classrooms, churches, movie theatres and other countries don’t.

    1. I really don’t think that gun control is the answer. There are so many ways to commit a mass-murder like this (as terrible as that is), but eliminating one of them won’t solve the problem, in my opinion.

    2. Though racism and gun laws don’t have a lot of overlap in my head, I personally do favor stronger gun laws. When I read about what happened in Australia when they tightened the gun laws, it seemed like a no brainer to me.

      1. Interesting. I really appreciate all the sincere comments here. I want to go read up more about Australia and the story there.

        For me it’s personal: I sleep better at night knowing that my husband has a gun to protects us if someone breaks in.

        1. As an Aussie I will say that people having guns is not even a consideration for us. It doesn’t cross our minds at all. After the Port Arthur massacre, John Howard (Prime Minister) initiated a buy back scheme whereby you could trade your guns in to any police station and they would pay you the fair price. Ownership halved within a year and since then there has been no mass shootings. See more here.

          We haven’t had any mass killings at all since then. So I do think that tighter gun laws help us to stay safe from people who might ‘snap’ or even have accidents. Pre-meditated organised crime WILL find a way though as recently seen in the Lindt cafe siege.

          Staying relevent to Gabrielle’s point though; as much as Australia has their guns under control we do not have our racism under control. There might not be mass murders today but we have a sordid past as white Australians for what we did to our Indigenous population and so this is a very necessary global conversation.

          1. As adults, it is important we have clear heads when discussing such matters. Feelings can be rather distorting of facts. Milka points out removing the confederate flag is unlikely to prevent the next massacre, and she is probably right. A flag, like gun, didn’t kill those people. A person, with a complicated personal history, killed those people and he used a gun to do it. If he did not have access to a gun, he might have used a bomb, or set a fire, or used a knife. The day after this tragedy, a killer in China used a knife to kill 28 people. It’s not guns. It’s people.

            One place to start in considering gun control is to look at the facts. If you were to guess where you think America fits into the gun ownership per capita, where do you think they would fall, out of 218 countries?*

            If you were to guess what the murder rate (by gun) per 100,000 residents is, where do you think the United States falls, out of 218 countries?**

            * I don’t think anyone would be really surprised to find out America is #1 in gun ownership per capita, with 90 guns per 100 citizens. That’s pretty high. We own more guns, by nearly 2 times, than the number two country, Serbia, at 58 guns per resident. That’s pretty incredible.

            ** As incredible as our gun ownership rate is, the murder rate per 100,000 citizens (by gun) is also incredible…. incredible in how low it is. Of the 218 countries, we hold the #111 spot – just about the middle – for homicide by gun. We are not in the top 110 countries for murder by gun. Not by a long shot. (pardon the pun) And if we could take out the incredibly high death-by-gun rate of our most troubled urban cores (Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, Newark, Oakland, Stockton, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Memphis, Atlanta and Chicago) our murder -by-gun rates would put well bottom 25 or so countries, and similar to countries in Europe… But those cities really do a number on our gun homicide rates….. For example, if Detroit were its own country, it would (almost) tie for second place in the number of murders (by gun) per 100,000 people. Second place! That’s incredible.

            And while we are on the murder-by-gun subject, the US is currently ranked 6th in per capita mass killings (gun) in the world in the last five years. Sixth place! I bet you didn’t know that either. The current list looks like this: Norway, Finland, Slovakia, Israel, Switzerland, United States.

            And now a couple of quotes from men considered by most of society to be among the kindest, most gentle, most caring individual, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama:

            “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest … if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity.”

            “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun. Not at the head, where a fatal wound might result. But at some other body part, such as a leg.”

          2. Thanks for your comment, Carole. If you have a second, it would be great if you would include source links for the statistics you cite. The source can really affect how I process this kind of information.

      2. As an Australian I find it incomprehensible that the U.S. has not been able to reign in gun laws given the rampant violence inflicted by people who should not have guns. The event that was the catalyst for tighter gun control here is still fresh in our collective memories 2 decades after it happened. What will it take to shift that thinking in the US? While access to firearms is clearly an issue, racism was at the heart of this latest abhorrent act. I am glad you are using your voice Gabrielle, many more are needed. A few years ago I had a moment of enlightenment in a work setting while participating in a workshop about how having greater diversity of people making decisions leads to better decisions. A friend and work colleague who is an aboriginal Australian spoke about what it feels like to have to deal with racism on a daily basis. From my position of white ignorance I had no idea that he had to live that life as he is a highly educated and greatly respected man. I stupidly thought his life was not much different to mine and in many ways it is except he deals with racism every day, I have never experienced that and probably never will. I resolved then and there never to be silent again. For me that has meant calling out friends, strangers and family. Mostly my calling out has met with an admission of the same ignorance and some shame but there is one family member who will never be invited by me to another gathering after repeatedly being so offensive I can no longer be in his presence.

        1. The information about guns is some times straightforwards man sometimes takes a little work to ferret out. Some links I uses:

          This link is beefy. Lots of info here. I would draw your attention to the charts of page 150/ 151 for comparisons of for homicides deaths in cities in Europe and the Americas http://www.unodc.org/documents/gsh/pdfs/2014_GLOBAL_HOMICIDE_BOOK_web.pdf Pages 150/151







          1. The information about the US being ranked #111 occurs in this link under the “Homicide” category of the report:

            The U.S.A. is ranked 3rd out of 45 developed nations in regards to the incidence of homicides committed with a firearm. Mexico and Estonia are ranked first and second.[citation needed] Russia, a g8 country,[citation needed] is ranked far higher.[citation needed] Out of 218 countries the U.S.A. is ranked 111 and has a lower homicide rate than mean of rate of all the countries in the world.[citation needed] In 2009 United Nations statistics record 3.0 intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants; for comparison, the figure for Mexico, where handguns are prohibited was 10 per 100,000,[46] the figure for the United Kingdom, with where handguns are prohibited was 0.07 per 100,000, about 40 times lower, and for Germany 0.2.[47] Gun homicides in Switzerland however are similarly low, at 0.52 in 2010[48] even though they rank third in the world for highest number of guns per citizen.[48]


  4. My initial response to this kind of shocking event is that the best I can do is learn from it to be more empathetic, courageous, and forgiving. Sounds cliche. I have a really hard time knowing how to respond and am hoping that others who post here will give me more ideas.

  5. So many things….Usually we discuss things like this in our house but more from a disappointed POV: “How sad”, “Where are his parents?”, “That kid just ruined his entire life”, “Can you imagine if that happened here?” Like you said, it’s really depressing and really easy to ignore. And because I don’t feel like I live in white privilege that most definitely means I do. There are probably all of 100 people of different race that live in my small town so its not something I am exposed to daily. Also, I grew up in a school with only white kids, went to a church with only white kids, married a white boy, and had some white babies. We watched alot of movies that portray black people as murderers and rapists and just as dangerous people in general but my parents NEVER talked to us about how they could be anything but. I think keeping the discussion alive is whats important. That’s the discussion I want to have with my kids when they are older than babies.
    And one last thing to answer one of your questions. If a sort-of stranger makes a racist comment I feel so much embarrassment for them that I don’t say anything which makes me embarrassed for not having a strong voice. Example:when we first moved in one of our elderly neighbours wanted to know what mix breed our little doggy is because she was 100% he must be some kind of schnauzer. We told her no. She says “Well, there must’ve been a {n-word} in the woodlot then!” And laughs hysterically. My husband and I were so shocked and appalled that we just kept on walking by. We were shocked speechless. But if someone I know makes a racist joke I don’t laugh and I tend to call them out on being idiots. I don’t know though! Someone has just insulted another person based on their race and I’m afraid of offending them by telling them it offends me. I would love to know what other people say when these situations come up.

    1. Oh man. I don’t always know what to do. When we were at high school registration, there was a student wandering around among the parents and his classmates and their younger siblings — he was on a phone call and using the n-word repeatedly. He is a black teen and I found I was conflicted. Should I say something: Hey. You’re using horrible language — and you can see there are young kids all over this place, cut it out. Or. Is this his attempt at “taking back” the word and owning it? And I should let him do his thing?

      I didn’t end up saying anything. My reasoning was weak. I hoped someone else in the crowd would say something, and I figured that my teens were pretty new to the school and I didn’t want them to be embarrassed if I called attention to our family. So I just distracted the people around me with conversation so we wouldn’t hear the cussing.

      But after we left, I kept wondering if I should have spoken up — regardless of race, it was not the time or place to be using that language. I also wondered: would I have said something if I heard a white teen use the n-word? I think I would have.

      1. I struggle with this one. I have been in this situation befire. It helps to have two little black kids in my trail. I just said ” I have taught my kids not to say that word. That it’s disrespectful. Can you help me understand why it’s something you are using? What are the rules? “. In general, a white lady telling a black kid not to use that word won’t go over well. But I speak up for my kids. So they can hear me addressing an issue we talk about. My kids understand that word to be hateful and unkind. If they don’t see me walk the walk, that is a loud statement. I do the same with the word “retard”. I can’t do tell what you do. I can only control what I do. And what my children see me do. THOSE are the people I’m in charge of shaping ( I call it shaking. They call it bossing).
        I feel conflicted in many ways. We have white boys and girls in my house and black boys and girls. I’m raising both the victim and the enemy it seems like. And none of my kids have a full understanding of either side. And I’m acutely aware of both sides depending on which grouping of children I have with me. I have both too many words and not enough.

        I just don’t know. I don’t often use Adan for political platforms. My following is small and basically to show my kids families and my family their day to day life. IRL I’m very very vocal. Very outspoken. Annoyingly so.

        It’s not easy. It’s uncomfortable. And not an option to ignore this conservation anymore. But what we do when we are face to face with people will have a much more long lasting and real effect than anything we do virtually ( I think). If human idea it. It’s scary to tell do wind face to face the things we say online. But it packs much more of a punch.

        1. Bek, I love anytime you chime in about this topic because I know you live it every day. And I know what an advocate you are for ALL of your kids. You are awesome!

  6. I have a long way to go, but over the past few years I feel like my awareness of racism and privilege have increased. My mother came to visit a while ago, and I was shocked to realize how many subtly racist (and some not so subtly) things she said! I called her out on it, but it would always turn into me feeling like I was being painted as the liberal turncoat daughter, and she would throw out arguments like “it’s not racist if it’s true” (in regards to crime/poverty statistics that are of course evidence of immensely complicated issues in our society). I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I dropped it and tried to ignore the subsequent argument-baiting (this all makes my mother sound awful, but she’s not! She’s great! That’s why this is so hard–if we assume only tattooed white guys from South Carolina can be racist we insulate ourselves from facing our own false ideas).

    1. I completely agree!! I have experienced racism in my family. From people I love. My husband and I are white and have 3 biracial children. Our family has asked “why didn’t you adopt one of your own?”
      It’s amazing how prevalent and sneaky our biases are. We all have biases. The best thing is to realize we have biases of all kinds and to confront them. I recently read “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. It’s about how people of color are at a serious disadvantage in the court room. I like to call that book, “the best book that ever ruined my life”. It has caused some serious panic attacks and soul searching. My book club discussed the book and, to my disappointment, there were no people of color there. The conversations quickly became racist and condemning. A book that so clearly showed how people were treated unfairly, was being overlooked. I was so mad and sad. I have decided that I must do something with my anger. I want to start a service organization called “multi-racial families for peace”. Serving the community and educating police officers.
      Thank you Gabrielle for getting this conversation started. It is near and dear to me.

      1. My husband just took that book out of the library! I’ll have to snag it from him when he’s done.

        And I’m always shocked by the racist undertones of what people in my family say. People who would swear up and down, “I’m not racist!!” I’m trying to gather my thoughts and think of examples of white privilege that my family doesn’t realize it benefits from.

  7. I’m so grateful for this post and the many articles you often link to about race relations.

    I’m a black female married to a white male. We have 4 kids, 3 of which are boys. My husband and I talk often about the day they will no longer be seen as cute and instead as a threat. He lives this marginalized reality with me yet his family does not. They often make comments or post things about “black people asking for trouble from the police.” I assure you, this is not the case. We simply want to be served and protected by the police like all other citizens. Criminals come in all races, but so do law abiding citizens. Being black does not make me suspicious and it certainly does not beckon unnecessary attention from a police officer.

    This conversation is uncomfortable at best for most people, but it’s more than necessary.

    1. Pamela Balabuszko-Reay

      Oh Jess-
      You have just said what I have said to people so many times. My 8-year-old son is black. The rest of us in the family are white. Right now my little guy is thought of as being the cutest kid. But make no mistake. I am raising a black man. He can be taken from me in an instant.

  8. Thank you for posting this, Gabrielle. It is too easy just to let it slide because we get uncomfortable. Although I find it very hard to admit, I agree with you that I am likely racist (although I do my best to check my attitude and change it). I saw this link recently
    (Hope the link works and is ok to post here)
    and thought it was a good demonstration of privilege and especially that it is the less privileged that speak up and say ‘It’s not fair’. I so want to be someone who speaks up when things are not fair for others and to demonstrate that to my children.

  9. As a white woman, I’ve been offended by the Confederate flag for years, and I’m wondering why it’s only going away now—why has it been allowed (or tolerated) for so long? Someone please enlighten me because seeing it as it really is—as a symbol of slavery, brutality, and hatred—has taken far too long. It’s a shame it didn’t disappear as part of the Civil Rights Movement decades ago.

    Also, I’m frustrated by the weapons issue. My young son reads series where main characters kill mythological beasts, and now he’s frequently talking about weapons. Yesterday I told him I’m worried about all this talk of weaponry. I’m worried because in books and games and movies, it’s clear who the bad guy is—part of becoming a good critic is identifying the antagonist.

    But in “real life,” sometimes kids (and adults) wrongly decide this person or that group is “bad” and start seeing them as the enemy. Then these kids think they too ought to use weapons to “fight” whomever they’ve labeled the bad guys. It’s scary because it’s all subjective—there’s no one here to point out who the universal bad guy is, and innocent people are getting hurt or killed. And if the problem is starting innocently enough by reading Percy Jackson and the like in third grade, I don’t know how to solve it.

    1. I found this article about the history of the Confederate flag to be very informative – it’s long but worth the read. The author of the article is Doug Blackmon who worked for the WSJ and is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and professor at UVA.


  10. I am Canadian and we are very culturally mixed, although black, asian and other minorities still have issues with police stops just like the USA. We have plenty of thugs but they are a mixed bag racially.

    I used to not say anything about racial comments, however now I speak up all the time, whether it be a racial comments, woman comment, fat comment, gay comment etc. I recently walked over to my neighbor and told him I heard him make a comment about black people and I was offended. He was shocked and a few days later came over to tell me he wasn’t racist. I told him to stop talking like one. I do not socialize with people who are racists or bigots. We have a mutual friend who makes comments about fat people when we went out (I am quite overweight myself). I told my husband I refuse to go out with the friend any more.

    I was born in Kenya and as a white child, I was bullied by some of the local black kids. That was almost 50 years ago and I am sure that happened all the time just like white kids picked on black kids. However, we have evolved, and just as we now accept gay marriage, the era of getting away with racial slurs is over. But we all know, it’s not just the comments that have to stop or the flags taken down. The playing field must be levelled and we must strive to treat every person equally.

    The 9 men and women shot were all exemplary citizens, all committed to their church, familys, state and country. They were highly educated and highly involved. We lost some truly great people.

  11. If we are going to move forward, then we have to set standards for *all* people, in *all* communities. I was disgusted to hear that the President of the United States used the “N” word in an interview recently. What kind of message is that sending? To me it is simply unacceptable. It doesn’t matter to me that his is black, or that he might have been making what he thought was a relevant point. Out speech needs to be elevated and refined on these topics or our conversations turn into rhetorical street fighting. Have opinions. Agree or disagree. In any case we must conduct ourselves with civility and dignity.

    1. I agree that civility and dignity are important, but I don’t really see how that’s relevant to the current conversation. Pointing out a single use of questionable language by an individual seems irrelevant compared to the institutionalized racism that runs so deeply in our family. Rather than pointing fingers at individuals, I think we need to look to the laws that make mass violence all too easy and the ideology that makes it seem necessary.

    2. Jenny, that reference is being taken way out of context. It’s not a good example at all.

      I think the way people who don’t agree with President Obama talk about him is far more disgusting. They are not civil, and not dignified. President Obama is not the one that needs the lecture.

      1. Of course I wouldn’t bother to lecture an individual on a single use of questionable language, however, President Obama is not simply an individual. As the leader of our country, President Obama represents ALL of us, and I would never use that word in any context.

        I only brought this up because of the prompt above – “What lines do you draw for yourself? If you’re interacting with someone and they say something casually racist, do you say something about it, or ignore it? What about if you heard someone say something blatantly racist, like the n word. Would you say something? Or ignore it because you don’t want to make trouble?”

        If the “N” word is blatantly racist as you suggested (and I believe that it is), then we should make no exceptions – and yes, that includes people calling the President that disgusting word. I’m honestly very surprised that people have responded negatively to my original statement. I’m not lecturing the President, or anyone else for that matter. It is a clear (and easy) line I have drawn for myself (and for my family), and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect others to not use that word either…especially our leaders.

        I enjoy the conversations on this blog. They are interesting and thought provoking. I rarely comment, and I must say, I don’t think I ever will again. Honestly. If we can’t all agree that the use of the “N” word is NEVER ok, then this is a conversation I don’t want to continue with.

        1. Jenny, I think you’re right that my prompt question should have been clearer, and I’m sorry you’re feeling attacked. When I said, “something blatantly racist, like the n word”, I was imagining an instance like in the example Rachael wrote in a comment above about her elderly neighbor — using the n word in order to insult an individual or group of people.

          I suppose I thought it was widely understood that there are instances where any word can be used without being a racist — perhaps when you’re quoting from a Mark Twain novel, or in a dictionary. It’s like when my son, who was 7 or 8 at the time, asked Ben Blair what the bad word is in The Christmas Story movie, when the boy is changing the tire with his dad. And Ben, who pretty much never cusses, said (with no drama, as if it’s a completely usual word), “The word is fuck.”

          I don’t consider that an offensive use of the f word. (But I do think it’s an example of good parenting.) And I don’t consider President Obama’s use of the n word as being offensive either. But perhaps you do, in which case, I suppose we simply disagree.

          1. The interesting thing is that I don’t think we really disagree much on this subject. I, like you and your husband, take the time to educate my children on the use of “bad” words. I want them to hear it from me first so that I can explain to them why certain words are inappropriate and out of bounds. I agree with you…that’s good parenting. I can also imagine a situation in which one might quote the “N” word in an English paper discussing a Mark Twain novel, or when referencing words from the dictionary for historical context. But let’s be honest, how often does that happen in the course of normal conversation? Hardly ever (unless you’re an English professor or something of that sort).

            The problem that I have with the President using the “N” word in a conversation (even a conversation about race), is that it turned into a soundbite that distracted the media and the nation from a far more important conversation. President Obama is a seasoned and talented politician. He should have known better, and I’m not sure why pointing this out is so offensive. To me, something is not a standard unless can be applied universally.

            Anyway…thanks for trying to do something good.

    3. The Other Robin

      We should not be offended by the President using the ‘n’ word while discussing race in an interview. We should all be offended and outraged at how many times the word has been used to describe the President of the United States of America. That is what is unacceptable to me.

      1. Thank you. Misdirected outrage is perhaps our biggest problem. I have never seen a President disrespected on the level that this one has been.

  12. This is a hard conversation to have. I don’t know what to say. I don’t feel like I’m racist but your link above says that if I’m white I probably am? I grew up in New Mexico with lots of Mexican and Native American friends and never thought twice about it. Now I live in a small town in New Mexico that is mostly Navajo reservation and we are by far the minority here. I have been discriminated against as a white person here, so I don’t feel like the problem is just with African Americans and other races (and believe me I am NOT saying that I have it hard, I am well aware that other races have things generally way harder than white people when race is an issue) but here’s what I think: why can’t we all just get along? Why does it have to be an issue? I wish we could just all forgive and treat one another as human beings and be kind. Last week a minor league baseball team in Utah tried to hold a European heritage night, which basically meant a white people heritage night. After the Charleston shootings it was canceled and ridiculed nationally as a terrible idea. But why is my heritage as a Swedish/Danish/English person worth less than a person that came from Africa or China or Jamaica? Why can’t we all celebrate our heritage and just be kind? I wish I had some answers. I wish I knew how to have this conversation without offending anybody, because I’m sure I will. I wish I knew how to teach my children, whose best friends are people of other races and colors, that as they grow up that doesn’t have to change, and that we are all worth the same and to continue to not see color past childhood. I don’t know how.

    1. I agree it’s hard, Emily. Definitely worth discussing.

      I actually read about the baseball team situation you mentioned yesterday. I gotta say, I think it was smart to cancel it. It was not a European Heritage night. They called it “Caucasion Heritage Night” and it was supposed to be a joke — like the book, Stuff White People Like. Maybe on SNL they could have pulled it off, but in this instance, the context was hard to read and it came off very offensively.

      If it had actually been focused on a European nationality, like the Swedish Summer celebrations they have in Utah, I’m sure it would have been awesome.

      I do encourage you to read the link I shared about white fragility. I think it does a good job of explaining why white people have such a hard time talking about race or hearing that some of their attitudes might be racist. I found it helpful.

      1. Emily (and any other white people doubting that they’re racist), try taking the Harvard implicit bias test. It’s pretty revealing, and although I’d really like to think I’m not at all racist, I found I had biases against African Americans AND women. Even plenty of African Americans who take the test find that they have internal racism against their own race. It’s a product of being told over and over, in very sneaky ways, that white is better than black. (And male is better than female, and white is better than Arab, etc.)

        We were all born into this culture that teaches us that, and it’s not our personal fault, but it IS our responsibility to own up to it and address it.

        Find the test here.

    2. I totally get the feeling of sadness and confusion over the fact that racism exists and that it is harmful to people and difficult to talk about. The problem with saying “why does it have to be an issue?” (And by it I think you mean race/racism) is that people of color do not get to make a choice about whether their race is an issue. People treat them differently due to both implicit bias and outright hatred, the media portrays them in narrow and often offensive ways, people that look like them are more likely to live in poverty or be sent to prison. Being able to even imagine simply ignoring race or racism (being colorblind) is a privilege of being white. Yes, we all should strive to get along and treat everyone equally and with kindness but that also means recognizing the systematic ways other people are oppressed and hurt and not being complacent, and listening to and believing people when they tell you there is a problem. In my book “all getting along” means I need to care and take action against what is hurting people in my community.

    3. The wonderful thing about being white and suffering discrimination in the US is that if you walk away (or move away) and that discrimination won’t follow you. People with dark skin can’t walk out of their skin, it follows them everywhere, no matter whether they are rich or poor.

      I also wrack my brain for why people in general can be so cruel. The only thing I can come back to is the ol’e “hurt people hurt people.” A lot of people are afraid or hurt and they cope with it by trying to hurt other people.

      Here’s the other thing. Being white doesn’t guarantee you are racist. In fact, I think the majority of our country is not in fact racist. However, BIG however…I do believe most if not all white people suffer from implicit racial bias, and cannot recognize their “invisible” racial privilege, and confuse classism with racism. I think many many white people (formerly myself included) are equitable people who are ignorant of their privilege and bias, which leads them to contribute to reinforcing the bias in society at large. I am reading a book called Waking Up White, and it has been very helpful with regard to the national conversation about racism.

  13. Whoa, this got me. Well done! As a socially liberal person born and raised in Texas, I’ve almost perfected my “it’s just not worth talking about it with these idiots” routine.

    Race has always been a topic in my household (I’m white, btw). I’m from a small, but very diverse, rural town. There were two identical middle schools (one was 6/7th grade, one 8th) left over from segregation times; had the district not split them by grades so that everyone had to go to both schools, they would have still been segregated. Anytime there was a field trip, the teachers would mix up all the different cliques so it didn’t look suspicious. We always had outstanding black history month programs (that got a little more..passionate?…by high school). Yet, I still remember the hubbub when the first black family moved in a few blocks away. I remember being in 1st grade and singing a MLK song we learned in school and having a family member tell me that he wasn’t that great and to stop singing it. I remember when the KKK would come to town, and the Black Panthers would follow.

    Though I’ve moved away, I still have a small percentage of fb “friends” that currently have the confederate flag as their profile picture. It INFURIATES me that they’re even trying to work this Southern Pride excuse. I have Southern Pride, as in, I’m proud I was taught old-school manners and have a strong affinity for sweet iced tea and homestyle cooking. The confederate flag just looks like ignorance when I see it.

    Yet, I say nothing, because I’ve found that arguing with stupid people is useless.

    1. When I think of the town I grew up in Southern Utah (which I love!), I don’t really think of racism at all. Simply because is was almost ALL white. It’s changed now, but at the time, it was like 99.9 percent. So there was almost no one to act racist toward.

      BUT. The local college is called Dixie (and so is the high school I attended). Why Dixie? Well, there’s no tie to the South, it’s just that it’s in Southern Utah, so Brigham Young called it Utah’s Dixie. The mascot for the college was the “Runnin’ Rebels” and the Confederate flag was used on t-shirts and the stadium — thankfully they’ve changed the mascot and no longer use the flag. In elementary school, I grew up singing “Oh I wish I was in Dixie”.

      And as a kid, I had zero context for this at all. I didn’t know anything about the American south, I didn’t know Dixie was a Southern word. I didn’t know the flag used at the college was a Confederate flag. I didn’t know it was a symbol of anything.

      There are whole generations that grew up there not understanding the horrifying implications of that flag.

      1. So, similar to talking about race, I get uncomfortable talking to a Mormon lady whom I really, really respect about Brigham Young. ;) I’m not very eloquent, but here were my first thoughts:

        – Brigham Young (and the Mormon Church in general, but I know it’s progressed through the years) to outsiders is not seen as a real open-minded nice guy. He clearly knew what Dixie and the confederate flag symbolized (as the Civil War was during his lifetime, and he said that blacks were “the seed of Cain”). Of course, that was done a long time ago, I just mention it because I don’t think school officials were that innocent in naming the school and mascots.

        – As a kid, of course you didn’t know that! I mean, when I was singing the MLK song that my relative shut down, I wasn’t trying to be political, it just had a catchy tune. :) It was when I was told to be quiet that I knew there was more to that story. I assume at some point during your schooling, you learned about the Civil War (or, as my mother’s generation was taught, “The War for Southern Independence”) and put it together? Or was the flag never shown there either? It is really interesting to see how others view it/learn about it. You know Six Flags theme parks? They started in Texas, because there were six flags that flew over Texas: Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederacy, and the US. I remember the stars and bars being removed from our 7th grade Texas History class (which….it is part of history, so I feel like that would be okay? See, more questions!).

        Anyway, I thought about this post more as I was going to sleep last night (of course). The reason I don’t speak up – and why I’m using a fake name right now – is because of family. If you speak up, you’re called a n—– lover (that happened over the Thanksgiving table one year). You’re told how disappointed your grandparents would be that you voted for a “black Muslim president.” At some point, it’s just easier to be quiet… for one more generation.

        1. Oh Dottie, no need to be nervous. I’m totally aware Brigham Young held racist views. He also had 40 wives. For better or for worse, his history is well documented. I didn’t mean to imply I thought he was regarded an an All-American hero or something. That said, we can’t directly pin the college mascot on him because if I remember right, it wasn’t introduced until the 1950s. ; )

  14. My grandparents and ancestors are white South Africans. My grandfather’s family could be referred to as “white trash” and I was told they were “just one step up from the blacks”. I grew up being taught about racial differences but as I’ve reflected on it, it wasn’t in a way that I would have liked to have learned or that I will teach my daughters. Conversations were blunt, but not. It was weird. I always thought both my grandparents were very racist until my aunt published a book my grandmother had written for her older daughters. It’s a little story about a mouse who faces fur-color differences and therefore doesn’t feel he’ll fit in. But the other mice do accept him. I wonder about the significance of a white mouse trying to fit in with brown mice. I want to ask my grandmother about this but she’s not a very personal person.

    It’s been quite the internal journey for me lately as I consider race.

    It’s been honestly shameful.

    I was talking to my husband the other day and I was sharing my conflict, the fact that I hate that I have this prejudice, and I said to him that if one of our daughters brought home an African American man that they were dating I would wonder if he was educated. This was such a shameful realization for me because as I said that I realized I wouldn’t ask that question about a white boyfriend – not in the same way. I feel heartbroken that I have these thoughts and ideas. But I’m grateful I’m able to recognize them and honestly see them. Because now I can explore that more and change.

    1. Kate the Great

      Your mention of your daughter bringing home a black boyfriend reminds me of something that happened in my childhood:

      I’m also born and raised in New Mexico, as is an earlier commenter, but my parents are both born and raised in Utah. I didn’t think they were racist until they pulled me aside one day at home and told me, quite frankly: “Kate, we would rather you date and marry white people and not black people.”

      I was shocked for days after that. I had no response to their comment in person, and I talked to my friends about it for weeks after. I was attracted to black guys at school, but had trouble even talking with any male, regardless of race. I went on maybe three dates in the three years of dating in high school, and I was shocked that, by this one comment, my parents would reveal themselves as racist.

      Since that one comment, I haven’t heard a breath of racism from them, and it’s been more than ten years since I graduated from high school. I still remember: my best friend in fourth grade was black, my friends were all different races at all different ages, and I invited all of them to my home for playdates, birthday parties, etc. That one serious opinion from both of them just shook everything. I’ve mentioned it to my siblings in private conversations with them, and it’s shocked them, too.

  15. thanks for starting a conversation here.

    as white parents of a black child, we struggle with what is happening and how to respond. primarily we wonder how we rally other parents like us to use our white privilege to bring attention to the issue. our family is not that unique and its part of the changing face of what race looks like in america. i have this gut feeling that even though it shouldn’t matter, perhaps a message from white parents of black children might resonate with white people out there that this an issue they should care about as i truly get a sense that there’s a general attitude that these issues are not affecting “white people.” but it really is and probably more than they think. i don’t know, perhaps i am wrong, but i feel like perhaps its a place to make a connection with those that think its not their problem or issue to confront.

    1. I agree, Meg. Totally. I think white parents raising black children can definitely make a bridge, or connection with white people who are having a hard time understanding the affects of racism and white privilege.

  16. I began to understand my white privilege when talking about the #yesallwomen tweets. I was surprised by some men who couldn’t understand. They would never hurt a woman! They would never watch anyone else hurt a woman! But they had never walked alone in a parking lot afraid. They had never been afraid to tell a man to stop hitting on them in a store because they aren’t physically strong enough to defend themselves. Just by being men (even kind, good men!) they couldn’t REALLY comprehend the things a woman must fear daily.

    And then I realized… it’s the same for me. I’m white. I love my friends and family of all races. I defend them. But, I still don’t understand the weight they carry daily just by being black. How could I ?

    But I can talk about it… And I can look for ways to help change happen…

  17. Thanks for starting this discussion. As a professor, I often facilitate discussions about race, class, and social justice. These conversations are awkward, uncomfortable and leave everyone feeling somewhat vulnerable, but this is what progress looks like. Silence is stagnation–let’s keep talking.

    By the way, it was great meeting you and seeing your beautiful family last Friday at True Burger. Let’s get that Oakland meetup going.

  18. I read the article you referenced regarding white fragility, and I honestly can’t even imagine what these feedback conversations would entail. I can imagine feedback regarding overt, conscious racism. But can someone script me an example of feedback you might give a friend or colleague regarding her position as a racist due to her birth and the default system? I was trying to imagine how I would respond, but I honestly can’t imagine what would be said.

    Has anyone participated in something like this?

  19. julia g blair

    Thanks for this very needed and difficult subject. The idea of “White Supremacy” is toxic. I am grateful for kind, tolerant, intelligent people both white and black who are willing to discuss the problem without pointing fingers.

  20. Very nicely said.
    The book Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman has a fascinating and thought provoking chapter on race – really worth reading when thinking about how to teach children – I think you’d like it.

  21. You are brave to use your platform to have this conversation, Gabrielle. Thank you. I think it is so hard to acknowledge the depth of privilege I have as a white person in this country. As a pedestrian, employees, job applicant, student, parent, homeowner, and citizen, the contours of my daily interactions are relatively straightforward. I can assume goodwill from others. And, most importantly, I feel safe and feel my children are safe. Acknowledging that these things are true for me and others like me just because of our skin color AND admitting that those who are brown or black do not walk around their lives as I do makes me feel defensive (I didn’t ask for this!) or shamed or both. It’s no wonder we don’t want to talk or even think much about it. It is almost too much to bear. But bear it we must. Otherwise things will never change. I come from a confessional faith tradition, so I find that confessing is helpful. So is prayer. This is not work that any one of us can do alone. We need to call on whatever sources of strength we can to help us heal these wounds. And I’m afraid it will take generations, too, so we must teach our children to take up the work when it is their turn.

  22. Thank you so much for posting this. As always, you are so thoughtful and whole-hearted in your approach to difficult subjects. Two thoughts keep coming to mind for me lately:

    1) Race & the Death Penalty: The facts are startling. I wish it would become a part of the national conversation: “African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white.”

    2) My own racism and events/experiences that led to them. When I was in middle & high school, a black boy sexually harassed me in a pretty intense way over a number of years, and I realized recently that I think this has shaped my thinking more than I care to admit. It’s so hard, but you really have to do some difficult, soul-searching work to rid yourself of certain preconceptions. I think the first step is to acknowledge it and forgive yourself, then figure out how you can make changes in both big ways (voting, issues, organizations, etc.) and in small ways–your every day thinking and daily interactions with of a different race.

  23. This was a horrible tragedy and my heart goes out to the victims families. I find so many things troubling about what you have written. I really believe that America is one of the least racist countries in the world. Where else could you go and find some many different ethnicities, races, religions all coexisting with relatively little conflict? It seems to me that your experience in France and Europe would have illustrated that point. Obviously there is room for improvement and I think that starts in the home with what we teach our children and the examples we show them of treating people with respect and kindness no matter their circumstance, race, religion etc
    I also think we are becoming so concerned about offending people that we don’t say what needs to be said. People are so quick to take offense. Everything can be construed as a microaggression, which by definition is something extremely small, so we shouldn’t take offense! The reason why we had to come up with that term is because macro-racism has largely been eradicated in the US.

    This article sums up what I think the bottom line is: “But here’s the rub: I do believe there’s a larger cause for things like this. But it’s not as simple as blaming the police, politicians, gun manufacturers, or drug companies. The reason atrocities like Dylann Roof’s terrorism happen is because evil is real, but that’s an incredibly difficult concept to process for a culture that is decreasingly religious. The concept of evil’s existence makes us uncomfortable because the solution for it isn’t as simple as changing a law or winning a debate with an opponent.”

    1. Hi Allison, I know we don’t know each other personally, so you probably wouldn’t know this about me, but I’m patriotic to a fault. I love this country. When I’m with my family, I don’t mind hearing my siblings complain about our family’s faults, but if someone outside the family complains about us, I can feel my claws come out — and I feel the same way about this country. I’m proud of it and I fiercely defend it. But I’m also very aware of America’s faults and feel sincerely motivated to improve them in any way possible.

      Racism is a deep, long-standing problem in our country. I’m honestly not clear on how one could believe otherwise. Simply ask your non-white friends if they’ve experienced racism and you can confirm it for yourself. Harsh racism (not just micro-aggression) is a fact in America.

      And thank you for the article link. I read it through, and agree that Dyllan’s actions were evil, but was confused by the author’s assumption that other people didn’t think it was evil. And I say that as someone who comes in at “very religious” on the religion scale. There are two main things that bothered me about his premise:

      1) He says, “I do believe there’s a larger cause for things like this. But it’s not as simple as blaming the police, politicians, gun manufacturers, or drug companies. The reason atrocities like Dylann Roof’s terrorism happen is because evil is real, but that’s an incredibly difficult concept to process for a culture that is decreasingly religious.”

      But the thing is, I haven’t heard people blame the police, the politicians, gun manufacturers or drug companies for this event. People are blaming racism, and saying racism is evil. People are blaming evil for this event.

      2) The author says, “But at some point in his life, Dylann Roof surrendered himself to evil, and he decided to carry out “his mission” even though the people of Emanuel AME had just disproven his racial prejudice.”

      He implies that taking evil racist action was something that Dylann just one day decided on. But we all know that’s not how racism/evil works. Dylann started out as an innocent kid like we all did, and then he was taught to be racist, to be evil. Who was he taught by? Probably by a lot of people, and by a lot of things too. Perhaps his grandmother, and a sibling, and a school teacher, and a scout leader, and a TV show, and a magazine article, and a classmate, and a local business, and a history book, and a church leader, and a neighbor. Who knows all of the things that contributed to him learning to be racist?

      And that’s what we’re discussing here: the pervasive racism in our country. We’re trying to figure out how to stop teaching it to both current citizens and the next generation.

      I guess I simply don’t agree with the author of the article that religious people have a monopoly on understanding evil.

      1. Hi Allison, (and Gabrielle!)

        I come from a country as you said “many different ethnicities, races, religions all coexisting with relatively little conflict”, Brazil. And I’ve got to tell you something: Brazil is a racist country.

        There are many people in Brazil that believe we are racist. There is relatively little conflict, as you said. Almost every one has a black maid or live-in nanny. Most of the doormen are black. And bus drivers. And waiters. And street cleaners. And thieves. Do you see where I’m getting at?

        There is no conflict, because the discrepancy is so large, there is no room for that. Racism is entwined with the “white middle class status”. It is very difficult for some people to ever realise that white privelege exists, but that doesnt mean that it doesnt.

        People here in Brazil LOVE prasing our diversity, and saying that we have so many mixed races, even a fair skinned blonde girl will have some “black” in her, and therefor there is no racism. “No one is 100% black or white”, it’s what they say. Unfortunately it doesnt make people less racist.

        A large portion of the population is against the affirmative actions the government has turned into laws. Now, the federal free universities (most of them are considered the country’s best) have to have a certain percentage of black people. Many people are outraged! They say it “causes” racism and that “before” everything was fine. When this first started, I had never thought about white privelege, or really ever cared about race (I’m white) and I went along with my familys opinion. Thankfully I have changed my mind.

    2. Great point Allison. We live in an incredible society. Friends in Europe told me how excited everyone was there when Pres. Obama was elected, because in Europe, no one can even imagine a person of color or another ethnicity ever being elected to the job of prime minister or chancellor, or president. We are still a beacon for the world.

      And we will never rid the world of evil – murderers, thieves, rapists, racists. We can do our best to resist them, but he human heart is capable of great evil. You cannot legislate morality, you can only legislate punishment for a crime that is actually committed. If we go down the path of criminalizing thinking, then we are surely lost.

      1. “And we will never rid the world of evil – murderers, thieves, rapists, racists. We can do our best to resist them, but he human heart is capable of great evil.”

        Carole, I don’t want to just resist evil. I want to fight it with everything I can. We can’t avoid hardship in this life — accidents happen, so do natural disasters, and things like cancer. But I don’t believe evil has to be a given. Violence doesn’t have to be a given. Poverty (which is directly linked to violence) doesn’t have to be a given. What I do believe is that as human beings we are bound to each other, and it’s our responsibility to take on the evils of this world and eradicate them.

        1. The bible says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” The whole reason for what I believe is our mutually shared recognition of the forgiveness available through Jesus Christ, is repentance and forgiveness is available for that wickedness. If there were no evil, there’d be no need for Jesus Christ. I too want to fight evil in all its permutations, but we will never be rid of it. The bible also says “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

          1. Yes, we both agree that evil exists. I don’t think we need to prove it to each other with bible quotes. Where I think we disagree is that I don’t believe we need to let evil exist in the staggering quantities that it does at the moment, and further I think we — all of us — are responsible for reducing evil as much as we possibly can. If we accept this level of evil, than WE are the evil ones.

            So, say we work to solve violence, hunger, poverty, racism, and after solving those we’re left to deal with evil like coveting and foolishness? That sounds like a pretty good deal. Heck, even if we were able to solve 50% of violence, hunger, poverty and racism, that still seems like something to celebrate. I’m not okay with an attitude of well, the bible says evil exists, so therefore I can’t do anything about it.

      2. I would like to agree that we are a “beacon for the world,” but I don’t think that’s as true as it could be. We are a collection of human beings who have done a lot of good, and we have a good form of government (with MANY flaws), but we’ve done some very bad things, too. (Slavery and genocide of the Native Americans to name two.) When we put ourselves on a pedestal, there is a huge danger in turning a blind eye to our faults–and then how can we improve? Look at how many of those European countries have had women leaders; we have not. Look at how many women in high government offices, CEOs, etc.–the number is small and the number of minorities is even smaller. It is interesting that black men got the right to vote in America before women did. When a few of my friends were having a debate on whether Obama or Clinton would win the primary in 2004 I made the remark, “America will have a black man in the White House before a woman.” The two men there exchanged knowing looks. That has now been proven as a fact. I’m just saying that we need to see things clearly.

        1. P. S. Thank you for having the courage and heart to bring up this topic and provide a wonderful place for discussion. This is my first visit and I’ve been fascinated with and buoyed by the intelligent and heartfelt comments! We need to talk about it, and keep talking about it and other difficult subjects until we figure out how to solve these terrible problems, problems that extend far beyond the horror of racism. That is our job as adults and what we owe future generations.

  24. I have loved you from a distance for a long time. Thank you for not wasting this space, your heart, or your unique ability to position things. Again.

    1. I agree with your thoughts. No one in their right minds wants to see evil flourish. And we should be doing what we can to combat evil. There are many ways to do this – through personal interactions, through churches and through other organizations. Evil is a moral deficit, and rarely (I would say never, but I am willing to say perhaps sometimes it does) does legislation affect morality. It is not capable of that. So real battles against evil happen in interpersonal relationships and spaces – children being parented well is the biggest deterrent, accountability to a larger group is a big one too, a belief in a system bigger than oneself gives one a sense of belonging.

      I don’t think will be able to stop mass killings, an especially shocking kind of evil. The day after the shooting in Charleston, a man in China killed 28 people with a knife. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people with a rented truck and fertilizer. People who have evil in their hearts and are bent on destruction usually find a way. A young man killed 90 people in a night club in New York through arson. Terroristic groups use rape. The expression of evil finds many outlets.

      1. Hi Carole. I agree that many battles against evil happen in interpersonal relationships and spaces. I remember not really having an opinion about gay marriage until I had gay friends in my life, and then I very much wanted gay marriage legalized. Change often happens person by person.

        But regarding not being able to legislate morality, maybe we’re thinking of different things, but I think we legislate morality in this country all the time, and I’m glad we do. I’m thinking of things like outlawing child labor, setting a minimum age for marriage, outlawing slavery — and then later, outlawing segregation. I don’t think laws can solve all problems of evil, but they can certainly set a good baseline for what’s expected of citizens (which I would class as part of the “accountability to a larger group” that you mention).

        As for stopping mass killings, maybe you’re right and we won’t be able to stop them. But I believe were morally required to TRY. Even if we fail. To say, “I didn’t try to fix this, because I thought I would fail” isn’t a way of thinking that I can get behind.

  25. I haven’t read all the comments so I’m not aware if anybody else had brought this up. Just the fact that the shooter has not been widely called a terrorist is in fact an act of racism. It was a terrorist act, yet it was called everything but. I feel the media especially, is responsible for this as its always the first point of “contact” between a person on the street and the news.

  26. It is stories like this one from the Washington Post that stop me in my tracks. I don’t have any good answers to your questions. But I’m trying to have conversations, with myself, my family, and friends. I am white and have black nieces and nephews and a black brother in law. I hope I cared before. I think I did. I “get it” a lot more than I used to, and it’s more personal now. It’s family. I’m not proud that it took having black family to care as much as I do, but, it is what it is, and I would like to be part of a solution. Or something.

  27. Thanks for such an excellent post, Gabrielle — so well said. We really need to have these conversations. As a white mom to two brown-skinned girls, these issues hit home. I’ve learned so much since adopting my children… and still see myself primarily as a learner. I still find it hard to have these conversations because of the reasons you state: offending someone, being misunderstood, being ignored, being dismissed, etc. I’m trying to have them, though, in various ways.

    It seems to me that most white people don’t see themselves as racist because they still think it simply means “hating people of another race.” They don’t understand what racism really means, how insidious it is. They also don’t feel comfortable talking about it. When it comes right down to it, I’m not sure they even care that much because it’s not personal to them–it doesn’t directly touch their lives. At least that’s what I find among many of the circles I’m in. And to be honest, I was probably like that myself once upon a time. (Also, racial issues in this country are different than where I grew up.)

    I really believe that if we don’t start having more of these conversations, nothing will change. I like to think that families like mine, and voices likes yours, can help pave the way.

    1. “It seems to me that most white people don’t see themselves as racist because they still think it simply means “hating people of another race.” They don’t understand what racism really means, how insidious it is.”

      I think you nailed it here, Zoe.

  28. Pamela Balabuszko-Reay

    Thank you. You have started yet another conversation. It is what we can do. It is what we must do.

  29. Susan Magnolia

    I am in my late thirties and am just now understanding my white privilege. For so long I have lived in predominately white neighborhoods, and could only consider my Catholic elementary school to be a place where I was exposed to any kind of diversity. I now live in Oakland and am a stay at home mom and feel rather self conscious. I have it so well that I don’t even know where to begin. My partner inspires me to not be afraid of the issues but tackle them head on, to support the organizations and the people that are doing the most good and feel the pain from things happening all around because it is real. I try to keep telling myself that it will get better and that my embarrassingly racist parents sound foolish to their grandchildren but its tough. Thank you for bringing this up and giving me so much to think about Gabrielle.

  30. Oh, I could go on and on about this. The conversation…(and conversationS) are very important to have, and to have early on to that we can try to overcome these problems at an early age. We live in a privileged, predominantly white community with excellent schools. Our town offers a scholarship program each summer for underprivileged high school students from the inner city to come for a month and study, and they live with local families. We are hosting a student this summer (I’m so excited about it!), but you wouldn’t believe the responses we get when we tell people we’re doing this! Ridiculous! In my opinion why WOULDN’T anyone who could offer to help do this for a couple weeks in the summer. I’m thrilled that we get a chance to share our resources on so many levels.

    In addition, there is a terrific camp in our town that’s run by a charitable organization. It has terrific facilities, great counselors, and is virtually identical to any of the other camps in the area that are more than twice as expensive. The only difference is that about half the campers attend on scholarships and live in the inner city areas and are bused to the camp. Most in our community choose to send their kids on a long bus ride to more expensive camps most likely because they are worried about the diversity…which to me is one of the good opportunities of the camp! Also, we’re talking young kids…kindergarten, first grade, etc. They’re more worried about their child attending a camp a mile away with diversity then putting their six year olds on a 40 minute bus ride to a camp where they’ll rarely interact with the counselors! I just don’t get it!

    I hope these conversations help. Attitudes are so ingrained in folks, and unfortunately these guns are just way too easy to get. In my humble opinion (and we’ve also been directly affected by the Newtown shootings and lost a dear little friend), it’s the MOMS who are going to lead the changes on gun control. Every single adult in this country must think through color blind eyes what it would be like to have a child who was shot by one of these crazy people. And think about it everyday as you put your child on the bus, kiss your child good night. So, bring on the conversations, it’s time for a change.

  31. Thank you, thank you Gabrielle—this kind of post, especially, is what makes you my hero. I would love to hear more about how you talk about race and racism with your kids, especially young children. (In fact, I vote for another book: Design Mom: How to Talk with Kids: A Situation by Situation Guide. :) Its tempting to not want to bog little hearts down with all the details and history, but we are trying to help our children be more thoughtful and aware than we were/are.

  32. I read a piece earlier in the week from Karen Walrond that inspired me to speak up. In fact, she helped me see that not only do I have a right as a white person to talk about racism, but that my silence is actually hurtful. Yesterday I wrote about racism on my blog, and I was a little fearful. In fact my husband warned me of possible backlash. But the opposite happened. It was the most read, and most shared piece I’ve ever done. And all positive, with just one comment that I didnt’ know what to do with (not negative, just confusing). I see now that racism is our issue…not their issue. And from my experience, we’re wanted at the table. Our voices and our words are a place to start. Thanks for using your platform Gabrielle.

  33. Gabrielle,
    I am French, half black, grew up in part in the Caribbean and was taught that races do not exist. There is one human race with different phenotypes. I am prefacing with my origins because after living for “so long” (9 years only) in the US, I am still trying to fully understand the racial struggles here.

    First, I did not realize at first how fresh the US history was the civil rights movement (when was the right to vote, etc.). I did not understand the need for affirmative action in the US.

    Our history is so different and it took me a while to realize this ( it may sound naive but since the French Caribbean is not too far and we did experience slavery trade as well, I just assumed our history was sort of similar in terms of rights for black people). For instance, the first French black deputy was elected in the 1790s in France.
    Also, most of the population in the French Caribbean is black or mixed, so teachers, lawyers, judges, doctors, etc. can be of any color or origin without prejudice. It is strange when some people here assume things about me based on my skin color. I am getting “used” to it in some ways and still scratch my head at times.
    It is making me nervous now when some relatives come to visit and might be crossing some part of the US. Maybe I should not but feel the need to warn them about things they may be experiencing here because they are black.

    French history is far from being exemplar and this is not what I am trying to imply here. I just see now how different the outcome is in terms of racial prejudice from places that experienced similar history at one time.
    Also I have lived in Europe as well and experienced different things there. America is definitely unique in so many ways. I feel like people here are more of the “go-getter” type: ‘I see a problem, let’s try to solve it.’ (maybe a broad generalizing based on the people I am surrounded by). Still, seeing this attitude and efforts like yours of addressing racial issues give me hope that some day it will be a problem of the past in this country.
    Education, communication, love, wash, rinse and repeat.

  34. As the white mommy of a black baby, I want everyone to understand and accept that black people are the same as everyone else, but are treated differently. Even that simple concept is not accepted. If we could all just start there.

  35. Hello Gabrielle,
    It’s nice that you wrote this post. Thank you.
    It made me remember that just some weeks ago, one of my old friends from NY posted on FB some prints that her son brought from preschool, it said something like I am.xxx.. My skin color is .white.. When I grow I want to be a.xxx..
    All the comments were laughing about the boy’s answer to the last one (which was funny) but no one person even asked why was the “skin color” in that kind of print.
    I’m not american, I’m latin living in the US married to a US citizen and I have an american child.
    For me, in my house, we aren’t all the same. Let me explain it, we are different, we have different cultures/values/religions/ whatever and that’s ok, the only (extremely important) problem is that those differences cannot be reason not to access food, education, health.
    Race, sex, class, religion shouldn’t be the reason not to access the same things, we all deserve the same opportunities and need to be equal to the law, regarding our rights and responsibilities.
    The two fundamental issues that worry me the most about racing a kid in this country are Guns and Racism.
    Every country has its issues of course, but I can’t believe how this country so advanced in so many things has still this problem that so much pain has caused and it’s still causing.
    Thanks for writing this post, it’s nice for people with influence create conscious because we moms have a great power. We do have the power to change the world, one kid at a time :)
    I think this is the first time I leave a comment in your blog that’s not for a giveaway! haha!
    thank you and keep up your work, all you do is lovely! I hope some day I can afford to attend Alt Summit! :)

  36. 1. After reading this Atlantic article about reparations, instead of despairing that the government was never going to do anything, for once I thought, hey, *I* could do something! This year, I’m making Black Friday, like, Black Friday. I am going to go out of my way to make the rest of my Christmas shopping as supportive as possible to black business owners. AND I’m now shamelessly plugging my idea on your blog. :) It’s easy for me (I hope! It should be) living where I do, but anyone can seek out internet/Etsy shops with black owners, etc. I really hope this becomes a thing. Do I need to feel personally responsible for getting Target back in “the black” for the year? No way. But I feel personally great about doing my part towards reparations!

    2. “White fragility.” I have an anecdote about that very thing. I’m currently reading the phenomenal, heartwrenching book, The Warmth of Other Suns, which was recommended to me by the black mother-in-law of one of my friends. She was telling me about it, and I said, “I can only imagine.” And she said, “You cannot imagine,” and I got my feelings hurt. “Dude,” I thought, “I am being sympathetic and I try really hard to be an ally.” Penitent, now, having read only a portion of these horrific stories of Jim Crow in the South and more subtle miseries in the North, of property theft and lynchings and beatings, wrongful incarceration, and pervy solicitation, and just the day-to-day belittling, I can confirm that she was righter than right. I cannot imagine. Living that way is unimaginable to my white self. At least, now, I know. I think #takeitdown will never change the minds of certain people, but I think any and all dialogue that opens our minds to the atrocities that have been perpetrated (and are now being perpetrated) against our black population is good and great.

    3. As the mother of black children (my step-children, who live in our home full-time), I wrote a note just this morning to the parents of a good, East Coast elementary school, where my child was called the N-word by a classmate. A European classmate who probably doesn’t understand the meaning of a . . . blah, blah, blah. I don’t care. We are having the conversation.


    1. Yes! I remember that article on reparations very well. And I love your idea of doing everything you can to support black business owners. Super cool.

      Also, I appreciate you sharing your story of white fragility. It’s a perfect example.

  37. I loved this post! My husband and I are trying to teach our children that all people are on the same level regardless of race and everything. I often think about how just because we’re white, our lives are so much easier in society because no one really thinks twice about us, but for anyone else of any different race, it’s the first thing you see and think about and there are people who prejudge people based on that one fact, and it’s heartbreaking to see. like the French person from the Caribbean who commented before me, I wish that our country could be like that, where people of any color, or any race can live their life without having any prejudgements solely based on race. It’s something that I pray for and something that I teach to my children, and I hope it’s something that I live up to in my everyday life.


  38. Really well said and thought-provoking.

    You asked for a link of something that helped you understand or explain issues regarding racism and this is one that helped me. I shared it on my blog a few weeks ago and I realize it’s bizarre that’s it’s on Cracked, but it really helped with points I couldn’t fully articulate in Facebook arguments I was having with relatives: http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-helpful-answers-to-societys-most-uncomfortable-questions/ Sharing in case it helps anyone else.

  39. I am so horrified by what happened in South Carolina that I almost can’t sleep. And I don’t feel that I have a sufficient vocabulary to express my feelings about it. I’m trying to get my head around what is fundamentally not understandable, fundamentally unfathomable.

    I’ve read this week that if I’m white (I am), it means I am, at minimum, unconsciously racist. I took the Harvard bias test online (linked from a comment above) and was told that I have a moderate automatic preference for African Americans compared to European Americans. This rings true to me, but I’ve also reached out to some African American friends, asking them to meet with me to educate me on what I don’t know that I don’t know about racism. If there’s any bias in me at all, I want to eradicate it.

    However, I want to say that I think parenting is an enormous influence in one’s racial biases. Sure, friends, the media, and everything else. But: parenting. My father is a white Southerner raised during segregation, and his profound distaste for what he calls the “idiot behavior” of bigotry shaped the entire culture of my family of origin. When my parents were newly married, my dad commissioned a painting of a black boy and white boy with their arms around each other, and that painting hung over the mantle in my home my entire life. They talked openly and often about racial concerns, making it perfectly clear that every single person is valuable. Their minds boggled that this was not unanimously agreed upon within society. They taught us explicitly (in everyday conversations, as well as full-on “lessons” during family time) as well as implicitly, through their actions and attitudes, that they loved people of all backgrounds — and they really, really did. They were thrilled when a black family moved into our neighborhood and befriended them immediately. Once, in middle school, I relayed a mundane classroom event to my mother and described a classmate as a “black girl.” My mom calmly interrupted me, asked if the girl’s skin was relevant to the story, and then calmly and directly told me that this was a subtle form of racism that she would not like to hear again. I have always, always remembered that. I have always remembered that (again, in middle school, trying to make sense of life) my parents’ immediate response when I asked if it would be okay for me to marry a black man was “Of course!” They were totally intolerant of racism, sexism, religious intolerance or any form of injustice, and it was always confusing to them when they came upon it. And here’s the point: IT STUCK. Because it was one of the basic tenets of their parenting that goodness doesn’t come through osmosis, it has to be actively taught, again and again, and lived, always. It is their most profound legacy, and I am so very, very grateful. I am striving to do as well with my own children.

  40. What if racism is more than just judgement? Is there something more to it, that on the surface we are completely unaware of? I have been thinking about it in terms of evolution and adaptation to the environment and survival of the species.

    If you think about all of the different races in the world and the physical features that make them different: skin colour, hair color, eye shape, hair texture etc. These features were ones that were best suited to that race’s country of origin. To best ensure their survival in the conditions present in their environment. For example, black skin in Africa makes sense, white skin that burns easily does not. Conversely, white skin in foggy areas of Europe makes sense, whereas black skin that wouldn’t absorb as much vitamin D does not. So if you think back to where we all started from and before we started travelling all over the globe, it would have made most sense for black skinned people in Africa to reproduce with other black skinned people….not some pale white person..who would be getting sun burnt all the time and have to stay indoors and be generally weaker…or whatever the case may be.

    My point is that sometimes (a lot of the time maybe) our world/environment evolves faster that our minds can keep up with. So what if racism is just a holdover from a time where our main objectives in life were ensuring the survival of the human race and not trying to decide what to order at Starbucks? And what if when some people see another race it still triggers some involuntary reaction inside of them, that what they are seeing is a threat to their survival. What if way back when, letting someone of a different race into our tribe/group/community meant that it would affect our offspring and possibly compromise our survival? What if our minds/bodies were conditioned to see ‘differences’ as a threat? And what if some still act on this impulse in a negative and hurtful way to others?

    What if we could say at the core of it that racism comes from a fear of something that no longer applies any more and we need not be afraid, and that we can all adapt and evolve and learn to have tolerance in place of fear, ignorance and hate.

    1. Well that is definitely a theory I haven’t heard before!

      Though it does seem like it would be easier if white people could excuse racism as a genetic thing (and absolve ourselves from responsibility), the theory doesn’t resonate with me for a lot of reasons. Two big ones: First, because I don’t see that theory play out with children at all. If they grow up in diverse places, they don’t seem to notice or care about skin color, and if they grow up in a non-diverse place and once in awhile encounter a different skin color, their instinct is curiosity, not fear. And definitely not any sort of elitism.

      I don’t know if there are stats to back it up, but even just in this comment thread, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of racism being taught. And I think it is.

      And the second reason is that the more we study race, the more we understand that it doesn’t exist at a physiological level — that it’s completely a cultural construct.

      And obviously, even if the theory were true, trying to protect our own future offspring is not a reason to make things more difficult for other people to protect their future offspring.

  41. Susan Altfeld

    Carol’s statistics are correct and her primary sources are good ones. It is important to understand the facts but I draw very different conclusions from them. For instance, while the US was in 6th place in gun killings per capita between 2009 and 2013, the countries “ahead” of us had one or two incidents each, not 38. And if you look at the period from 2000 to 2014 Norway and Switzerland still only had one case each—- but the US had 133. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/jun/22/barack-obama/barack-obama-correct-mass-killings-dont-happen-oth/
    While our murder rate per capita is in the middle of all countries, it is at the very top for developed countries. Does it matter if we are in first or third place? It’s way too high.
    The relationship between gun ownership and murder is a complicated one. But how can anyone believe that we don’t need to have laws in place that regulate who can buy them? Of course, people can kill by other means, but not nearly so easily.
    I am unsure how to respond to the statements about killings being concentrated in our urban cores. They are part of this country too. How has this happened?
    Mental health is definitely an issue in the killings in Charleston and many/most, perhaps all of the mass murders we have seen. Healthy people don’t hate this way and don’t act on wild impulses and delusional beliefs.
    And Dylann Roof’s friends knew of his beliefs and his intentions. They didn’t believe he would do anything. Perhaps because they were used to hearing racist hate speech.
    Something has to change.

    1. Yes, we are at the high end, but that “high end” is less than four in 100,000, or less than one in 25,000. But how to quantify those odds? Here are some leading causes of death in the United States…

      Odds of dying in a land vehicle accident? 1 in 85.
      Odds of dying in a fall? 1 in 184
      Odds of dying in a car accident? 1 in 272.
      Odds of dying in a pedestrian accident? 1 in 623.
      Odds of drowning? 1 in 1073.
      Odds of dying due to fire or smoke inhalation? 1 in 1235.
      Odds of dying from complications of medical/surgical care? 1 in 1523.
      Odds of dying in a bike incident? 1 in 4147.
      Odds of dying from choking? 1 in 4404.
      Odds of dying from air/space travel? 1 in 5862.
      Odds of dying falling from a building? 1 in 6115.
      Odds of dying from excessive exposure to natural heat? 1 in 6174.
      Odds of dying from excessive natural cold? 1 in 7399.

      On the other hand, the odds of dying in a random public shooting? 1 in 384,000. For another data point to consider, the population of Miami ia about 360,000. Those are very, very long odds.

      1. Carole, these statistics may be true, but I’m not sure I understand your point. Are you suggesting that a focus on gun control is irrational because we are more likely to die falling off of a building or drowning than as the victim of a mass shooting? If that is the position, I would suggest that we as a society should do what we can, within reason, to prevent any unnecessary/avoidable deaths. And indeed we do. There are seat belt laws, cyclists are encouraged to wear helmets, etc. Just because our chances of being killed in a mass shooting are small, doesn’t mean that we, as a society, shouldn’t do what we can to prevent those deaths. (I also want to point out that the risk of being killed in a mass shooting is going to be lower than the risk of being killed by everyday gun violence.)

  42. ClaireInDavis

    I just wanted to say thank you and that your blog really takes my breath away.

    I started reading this blog quite a few years ago, as a tired, overworked, slightly lonely, working mom, trying to figure out where I was and who I was in the overfull mix that was my life. I started reading for the way you made design + family work together without short changing one, or the other. And you still do that magically well, but the real magic is how you hit the whole spectrum of our shared human experience — from birth stories to frank conversations about mental illness, to beauty quandries and fun projects to do around the house, to the biggest moral issues of our society. Your blog literally has people around the world opening their doors to each other, inviting strangers into their homes to see how they and their families live.
    So really, this work of racial reconciliation, and what I first thought was fun and escapist design eye candy, really turn out not to be so unrelated.

    Thank you for going out on a limb with this post.
    Thank you for opening up this conversation
    and thank you for the powerful model that you provide us of openness and questioning and wrestling to make things better.

    It sounds so very biblical, but righteous is the word that seems to fit your writing and your work here today

  43. This was beautiful! You might think you have nothing to say but you said a lot and you said it perfectly!

  44. Thank you so much for this post. So important. You’ve made me think harder, and I am very grateful for it, and for the many links sprinkled throughout the conversation.

  45. Thank you. My family and I live in South Carolina, and what happened has caused me enormous sadness and anxiety. Immediately after the shootings, everyone here seemed to be embracing one another with love, and I had this misguided sense that change was on the horizon. Then our governor, whom I applaud for doing so, began the campaign to remove the flag he used as a hate symbol. And my heart was broken once again. People who were hugging just the day before began showing themselves as racists or worse, ambivalent. Governor Haley received terrible comments on her Facebook page, and I tried to leave messages of support, but the number of people in favor of that flag startled me. And now the Lafeyette shooter is revealed to be of a similar racist and sexist mindset. Where do we go from here? Thank you for this post. I am reluctant to leave comments, but after what we have all been through this summer, we need to keep the conversation going.

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