Having Those Difficult Conversations

Yesterday, November 6, I attended a discussion in the Newhouse School of Public Communication. It was not a typical Newhouse discussion, like one involving communications strategy, creative storytelling or media mastery; rather, it was a discussion about the one thing most people are afraid to talk about - race in America.

Before I discuss the event, I want to address something that is likely at the forefront of your mind. As a white, cisgendered, heterosexual man, you might expect me to be the most uncomfortable person in the room when race is brought up. You might envision me sinking into the floor when topics on race surface. However, I love talking about racial issues in America. I love learning about new perspectives, ideas and lived experiences. I understand that, throughout history, those who looked like me committed atrocious crimes against people of color. I acknowledge that injustice prevails today in countless forms. Therefore, I view my role in discussions on race as being an active listener. I try to soak in as much information as I can to try and see things from my peers' point of view and grow from it. With that said, I can proceed.

The discussion was led by the scholar, activist and change maker, Orlando Bailey. He immediately set the tone for the event by declaring that his words always come from a place of love, even when they are controversial or intentionally disruptive. In addition to calling on the audience to listen, Bailey also encourage dissenting voices to make themselves heard, if they felt so inclined. Inviting opposing perspectives to speak up in a discussion on race was very inspiring to me. Too often, discussions on race stay trapped in echo chambers and small social circles. Bailey is leading a fight to widen that perimeter and create a society where marginalized voices can air their concerns freely.

The other speakers on stage with Bailey were equally as insightful. Biko Gray, a new professor in Syracuse University's religion department, delivered a poignant observation on the United States. I tweeted his words, along with my own sentiments on the matter: "The U.S. is built upon two things: the genocide of indigenous folks and slave labor." Recognizing the many shameful truths of American history and working to rectify those wrongs are two small steps toward achieving true equity #MindfulInclusionSU"

Another speaker, Jalen Nash, expressed his discomfort with having too few black spaces on campus. He noted that, as a black man in the journalism industry, he is often the only black person in a room or entire building. The students words made me reflect. Throughout my tenure at Syracuse, I have remained in predominantly white spaces. The people around me are usually always white, and I never pay it any mind. Nash, however, does not have the luxury of forgetting about his identity when he enters a room. He is constantly reminded of it in subtle, unspoken ways.

The final speaker, Maya Bingaman, delivered a bit of a different observation. She repeatedly identified her own privileges as an Asian woman in predominantly white spaces - one of which is being stereotyped as smart and hardworking. Her comments were examples of how people of all backgrounds can possess privileges. They also identify the ambiguities inherent in discussions on race, gender, ethnicity and sex. Such topics are loaded with gray areas and uncertainties.

That's why we have to talk about it.

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