By: Jennifer Liptak – Junior, Human Rights
After attending the “Critical Examination of Our Times: The State of Race on the University of Dayton Campus” symposium, I found myself reflecting more thoughtfully on the topic of race than ever before. It’s not that I’ve never stopped to think about race and what it means; it’s just that I never felt comfortable enough in my own skin to actually discuss it. In fact, my naiveté to the deeper truths of race led me to consider the questions, how does one start a conversation about race? Or why is it so difficult to talk about? Fortunately, those who spoke at the conference proved that discourse is possible. As Kathleen Henderson, of the Office of Student Success and Parent Engagement, said during one of the panels, “Discomfort is nothing more than a growing pain.”
Well, here I am. I’m gonna start a conversation on race.
Let me begin with this: race is weird. Not a bad weird…not a good weird…just unfamiliar. We can choose to acknowledge its presence, or we can simply brush it under the rug. Regardless of what we choose, race creeps its way into each of our lives by embedding itself in the heart of society. Without realizing, people allow it to govern their actions and decisions, shielding them from the brutal reality of discrimination. Take any documentation process for example. On most job applications, it is required that an individual identify his or her race. Okay, fair enough. But what happens after the application is turned in and reviewed? Unfortunately, this is when, in many cases, people have become scapegoats of race. Society has constructed us to bear the blame for racial discrimination, yet all of us are victims.
The concept of race was, excuse my French, f—ed up before any of us were born. Heck, by the time we were old enough to understand what race was, we had already been brainwashed into thinking that race solely meant the color of one’s skin, not that it led to discrimination or human rights injustices. In some respect, our perceptions of people of color had already been predetermined for us by society. While I credit society for creating the racial structure, the problem is not that race exists, but rather that it has created an unspoken tension between anyone who does not share the same skin color as you. In my own experience as a white female, there have been several times when I did not feel comfortable enough to talk about race with someone of a different color. Maybe it’s because I was afraid of offending someone, or perhaps I was just afraid of sounding foolish. Either way, I regret not leaving my comfort zone.
It’s embarrassing to admit my discomfort with race. Yet, it’s just as embarrassing to pretend that race does not exist. Race is and will always be a misconstrued concept. It will always be complex. It will always be an issue within society. But what race does not have to be is weird. It does not have to be unfamiliar, nor does it have to cause fear. By acknowledging its presence and recognizing the power behind the word “race,” one has essentially made the first step. Now all that’s left to do is abandon your comfort zone and continue the conversation.