“Mother, mother…There’s too many of you crying…Brother, brother, brother, There’s far too many of you dying…You know we’ve got to find a way, To bring some lovin’ here today…”- What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye
Brene Brown, in her brilliant TED Talk in March, 2012 said this, “We heard the most compelling call ever to have a conversation in this country, and I think globally, around race, right? Yes? We heard that. Yes? Cannot have that conversation without shame, because you cannot talk about race without talking about privilege. And when people start talking about privilege, they get paralyzed by shame.”
Ms. Brown is probably referring to the Trayvon Martin tragedy but she easily could have been talking about Mike Brown or Sean Bell or Amadou Diallo or Eric Garner…
Yes, I’m soooo drinking her Kool-Aid right now but her point is valid. We have many compelling reasons to have that difficult conversation about race. Right now. In our neighborhoods. In our counties. In our state. In our country.
But in order to have open dialogue about race and culture, which in my opinion is the only way we become more accepting of each other, we must agree to two things: 1. Honesty. Honesty is paramount and we need to recognize it is going to be uncomfortable. And 2. To Ms. Brown’s point, we must be prepared, regardless of what you look like, to deal with shame.
In her book, Daring Greatly, (I’m such the Kool-Aid drinker, I know, I know. This flavor is good, though…) she defines shame as “…the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
I mean, break that down. That’s deep. And when you relate the feeling of shame to conversations about race, you might say that opening up and having frank dialogue is scary because what you say might get you kicked out of a “clique” you belong to. You might be unworthy of belonging. You might even see that you’re flawed. Someone may label you. GASP. That is scary.
But here’s how I think. If you choose to have regular, open dialogues (with some rules, of course) with people who do not look like you (or yikes, may even have a different religious or political ideology than you) and you really choose to listen to their perspective (ie- why they may be upset about Eric Garner or why they are not upset about Ferguson), and you embrace the fact that it is going to be uncomfortable, I believe that you become part of the solution. Because, folks, we do have a challenge. And we can either be silent…or complain…or riot and loot.
Or we can choose to work on it.
In 2010, I was on the board of a group called twentyfivefortyfive. We were a philanthropic group and our mission was to “build a more caring, creative and effective community in Howard County by encouraging philanthropy among those between the ages of 25 – 45.” Yay.
One day, after reading an article about the lack of diversity on various boards in Howard County, we decided to host a summit. In fact, we called it a beer summit.
Now..if you’re wondering why, we called it a beer summit, stop reading for a sec, and please click here immediately http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/30/beer-summit-begins-obama-_n_248254.html).
I was super nervous about it. (Thanks again to Ian and Josh for talking me off the ledge…multiple times.) Turn out ended up being great. Conversation was good. And no one had a heart attack. No fights. And, to my knowledge, no one was kicked out of their “clique”.
But you can read more about it here http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-08-26/news/bs-md-ho-diversity-meeting-20100826_1_columbia-foundation-diversity-abby-hendrix.
The only thing I regret is that we didn’t host additional community conversations with more people. People who may not be drinking the same Kool-Aid we drink.
And so we stopped talking.
And that is shameful.
Picket lines and picket signs…Don’t punish me with brutality…Talk to me, so you can see…Oh, what’s going on…