CONVERSATIONS ON RACE: Moving Out of My Cocoon
December 22, 2015
December 22, 2015
By Haven McLaughlin, Valencia College Peace & Justice Institute Ambassador
This article originally appeared in the Valencia College PJI Newsletter.
During my time with the Peace and Justice Institute, I have had a plethora of good experiences. This is especially true of the ones that dealt with social justice. One such experience was from the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation’s Conversations on Race workshop. It has stood out to me as the most interesting and one of the most profound experiences during my tenure as a PJI Ambassador.
When the presentation that declared race as a construction of human design and culture was shown, it was a rather shocking revelation that piqued my interest to actually think about how there truly wasn’t much of a real biological alteration that dictated race. We are human after all, but we are also so different and unique at the same time. We were asked to move in to small groups of approximately four to five people and urged to have different races in our group. The majority of the event comprised of prompts appearing on the screen with instructions for each member in the small group to discuss their stories and personal experiences.
You can show people the statistics and provide logic, however, nothing can truly compare to another person’s experience firsthand when they regale some of the difficult situations they faced or the injustice they may have seen. After I heard these personal experiences it was easy for me to empathize with them and I felt like it helped me to better understand this issue that I had removed myself from without being detached or cynical.
Everyone in my group seemed to experience a form of prejudice whether it had been explicit or implicit. It wasn’t until I heard of times when others have faked indifference to antagonizing situations, did I realize that perhaps I too had witnessed these ‘ wolves in sheep’s clothes’ and frivolously ignored it. Maybe I didn’t take notice, or maybe I was afraid I would face backlash from peers, and would rather let another suffer than to take a stand. It made me think about just how unfair it was that I would never have to face the disparity the person across from me would face, just because they had darker skin pigmentation or had a different cultural background.
I am astounded; I believe that conversation has helped me move out of my cocoon of uncomfortable anxiety when it comes to discussions on delicate topics such as racial prejudice. I believe these types of serious conversations are a major way to stop ignorance and vile behavior. Too many are anxious or detached from this situation, and like me, may need a bit of an encouraging push. Overall, I found that the experience made me more thoughtful and less likely to ‘stonewall’ during conversations on an important topic.