“How to Talk about Racism” Includes Topics of Difficulty Discussing Racism, New Narratives for Inequalities


Rethinking Race hopes to raise awareness to societal issues pertaining to race and provide safe areas for discussion. (Graphic courtesy of The University of Akron)

By Megan Parker, News Contributor

Students learned about how racism can be difficult to talk about and the need for new narratives during the second part of the Rethinking Race discussion series, on Feb. 6, 2018 in Bierce Library.

Senior Jon Tucker, a mechanical engineering major, attended “How to Talk about Racism” in order to learn more about the different races he had not encountered while growing up and to better understand the inequality issues within the world.

“I came to this [event] because I grew up with people looking like me,” Tucker said. “I didn’t experience people of different races a lot and it is something I am learning about… to better my understanding in order to be a better person.”

“How to Talk about Racism” was lead by Brant Lee, a professor of law and Director of Diversity & Social Justice Initiatives at The University of Akron.

This event was the second part of the Rethinking Race discussion series. Each of the parts are independent and able to be understood if a person missed one event, Lee said.

Lee started the discussion by asking students what are instances when racism can be difficult to talk about and what makes the discussion difficult for people to engage in.

“I think it goes along with the fact that others believe you don’t want to judge. You don’t want to be the one accusing someone of being racist or having prejudice,” senior Nalaya Brown, a psychology major, said.

Brown said people should be able to ask whether a person is intending to be racist or not without the fear of offending someone or receiving criticism.

“I feel that’s a skill a lot of people don’t have the courage to do: to directly talk about something that they feel is probably wrong,” Brown said.

One student said people are afraid of being labeled or criticized, which prevents any discussion of race or racism from happening.

“I think a lot of people, especially white people, are more concerned with being called racist than how they are acting or how their behaviors are affecting other people,” the student said.

Lee said racism is a difficult topic to talk about due to different life experiences or beliefs others will have.

“One of the issues… is that it is hard to say what you think in fear of being accused, misunderstood, or having people disagree…” Lee said, which could lead to being called a racist.

Later during the session, Lee discussed the two current narratives used to explain why racial inequalities exist and how new narratives are needed within society.

The two narratives used to explain inequalities are “malice” and “merit”, Lee said. However, Lee said there are issues with these because they not only place blame, but also allow certain behaviors.

Without giving facts to support the argument, “each of those narratives serves as a self-serving rationalization and an accusation,” Lee said.

Lee said people don’t have to believe they are being accused when others “point out inequalities.” People should think about the other factors influencing inequality.

In order for new narratives that do not focus on accusation to be accepted and understood among all races, people must step out of normal routine and “things that seem natural,” Lee said.

“I think that when the discussions focus on the accusation, we miss the opportunity to move forward with things [people] might agree on,” Lee said.The events of Rethinking Race hope to “provide not only a safe space for open and difficult discussion, but also information that leads to an enhanced understanding,” Amy Shriver Dreussi, co-chairperson of the Rethinking Race Steering Committee, said in a news release.