On paper it sounds good: Get a diverse group together for an open discussion on race, religion, politics or sexual orientation. However, if you’ve experienced one of these open discussions you’ll know that reality doesn’t really care about the paper.
Why? Because it is inevitable. Someone will say “I don’t understand why (you fill in the blank)” and it’s downhill from there (i.e. I don’t understand why black people got upset about Tilghman’s lynch Tiger remark).
This normally leads to the offended group trying to explain why an act or language is offensive, hoping others will eventually understand or “get it”. This in turn becomes frustrating, time-consuming, and usually ends with everyone feeling misunderstood. As you can see this is not very productive. In fact, it’s a no win situation.
Here’s the thing. You don’t have to “understand”. It’s like other things in life. If you’re not a mother you’ll find it difficult to “understand” the unconditional love a mother has for her children. If you haven’t been fired you won’t “understand” what it feels like to be suddenly unemployed.
In the same way, if you’re not African-American you may not “understand” the pain associated with a hanging noose. If you’re not Native American you may not “understand” why the label Indian is offensive. Thankfully it’s not necessary to “understand.”
It IS necessary that we respect each other and our differences. It is necessary that we refrain from using derogatory language and actions. And it is extremely important that we educate ourselves on ethnic and racial groups, so that we are sensitive to each other, seeing our differences as an asset, not a liability.
Towanda Long aka The Café Lady