Conversation About Race - Over Coffee?
March 24, 2015
We often hear the advice that we need to have a conversation about race. Obama himself has asked for that conversation, but advises that it should take place in places where people naturally work together, such as in work places or churches. Most frequently we hear the call for conversation at exactly the point when we are actually conversing- conversing because of crisis. Sadly, in the last few years those conversation points have been following tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, and others.
But this week many of us were surprised to learn that Starbucks was trying to do work on this dialogue by encouraging baristas and customers to discuss race. Many are puzzled about just how the conversation fits into the quick flow of anonymous people making their complex orders using words like venti, double, extra hot etc.
More important than those coffee-elite words, we think again about what we mean by race. It seems that when we use “RACE” as a singular concept, we usually mean African Americans, and not White Americans. Whites seldom refer to themselves as a race. However, when we use the word “RACISM”, we usually mean White privilege or power. These two terms race and racism appear to be addressing the same topic, but actually show the difference of viewpoint and experience.
A conversation about racism can be held without a crisis. But it does require whites to understand and acknowledge to their privilege in the US.