The ticket to get into an authentic dialogue about race, is to have a coherent narrative, detailing not only about how race affected you in the past, but how you struggle with it in the present. Otherwise you are a voyeur, no matter how good your intentions. Only whites with a conscious, on-going race narrative can communicate deeply and effectively with those who are not white.
Here is Jonathan telling parts of his own story.
It was his admonition and example that started me thinking a couple of weeks ago about how I was similarly affected by my grandmother saying things like "When a chigger becomes a chigero, a n****r will become a negro." I realized that ordered my world in the same way that Miss Helen had ordered his.
But I had another experience this week that took things a little deeper for me. I grew up mostly in a small town in northeast Texas. Recent movies have detailed some of the very real terrorism experienced by African Americans very close to what I once called home. For example, I mentioned that this week we watched Deacons for Defense at an all staff meeting. That takes place in Jonesboro, LA - about 150 miles from where I grew up. And The Great Debaters happened in Marshall, TX, only 20 miles away.
Thinking about all of that, I recalled a very vague memory I have about a group of men sitting around our kitchen table when I was young. I didn't hear or don't remember what the conversation was about - but I do remember someone joking about getting guns and killing some n*****rs.
When I relayed this memory to a friend this week - the tears came all of the sudden. I suspect its some of the same feeling Jonathan had when he talks about - for the first time - recognizing that "his people" were those shouting and throwing things at the civil rights marchers. The tears were about the recognition that, in the events portrayed in those movies, it was all of the sudden very real to me who "my people" were.
I don't say that to suggest that wallowing in guilt is where I need to be. But I do need to face the fact that race has always been a part of my life. As Jonathan says in the video - "this isn't Black history, this is my history...this is what formed who I am." It begins to make me a participant rather than a voyeur.
And perhaps that's part of why we so often want to avoid it all in the first place.