Why We Talk About Race

There might be some comfort in understanding racism as rare and unforgivable. We can confidently make displays of righteous indignation against racism, while keeping blind to how we ourselves have made mistakes.

This fiction might be comfortable a times, but it paints us into a corner too. If racism is so rare and unforgivable, we cannot allow ourselves to acknowledge when we ourselves have made mistakes. When mistakes are made, we will struggle to truthfully see our own actions, history and community.

The thing is, racism is exceedingly common. Victoria and I have dealt with racist comments many times, and it is most difficult when it touches on our children. My credentials as a scientists are regularly dismissed by non-experts. Yes this is common online, but it has happened to me in ways I do not see take place with scientists that are not minorities.

Racism is common, but there is good news. Racism is also forgivable.

I am reminded of my own mistakes here, and when I have been forgiven. Others have been forgiven too. I am reminded of Daryl Davis, who talked 200 KKK members out of their robes. If forgiveness is possible for the klansman, it certainly is possible in the racism that is far more common.

Racism really is far more common than we might expect, but also it is forgivable.

The reason the conversations about race are so difficult is because they matter. It is our mission to seek understanding across these disagreements, and to find community that does not require agreement. Science is not enough, but it does have information that can help us too.

A better way is in view. We can’t find it alone, but perhaps we can together.

It is very fitting that this article did not come out on MLK day, a day when everyone pauses to remember the Civil Rights movement.

For us, the questions of race are not just about the news cycle. They are more closely connected to our mission. We seek encourage conversation around the grand question of what it means to human. At all times of the year, on MLK day or not, the conversation about race brings us to this grand question.

The conversation is interesting and engaging, but it can be difficult, so we have to practice humility, tolerance, and patience. Ironically, approaching the must dehumanizing of conversations can be hopeful. Finding a better way here can humanize all of us. We could experience something of the Kingdom of God, that “beloved community” of which MLK so often spoke.

In the end, we seek peace in this conflict too. This is why we talk about race.


As a country, do you think we should stop asking to identify by race, and change it to ethnicity (check all that apply)? Do we reinforce our differences by making them seem immutable?

In the examples you mentioned, with people that are colleagues and friends, do you often not bother to correct someone or let them know how their remark hurt? I think it’d be difficult to know when it’s worth the emotional effort to explain or to know you might be rejected. If we were better as Christians at confessing our sins to one another, I think this topic would not be so hard in Christian circles.


In the case I described in the article, I did make it clear, and I hope it was received well. I don’t know for sure, because there was no response. Honestly, that was discouraging.

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I think you hit the nail on the head right there. I grew up in a conservative Christian home. We acknowledged racism was real, but what we meant by that was that we knew there were some people out there who dressed up in Klan robes and terrorized black people.

We could never admit how we behaved was racist. To suggest such a thing was a massive affront to our pride. After all, we never said we were superior to minorities. We never terrorized them. We never committed violence against them. Racism was bad, and we just weren’t bad people!

What we did instead was far more insidious. We talked about minorities as monolithic groups. We talked about how [insert minority group]’s culture was really the root of problem x. Problem x was caused by a lot of things, but certainly NOT caused by US.

I remember one time, my father told me, “I wouldn’t hire a black man. The risk [of an HR lawsuit] is just not worth it.” I was probably 16 at the time and didn’t even think twice about that. To this day, he would never admit he’s directly contributing to racial inequality—he would say he’s just being pragmatic. He’s stuck in a place where he sees racism as unforgivable—and he just can’t see himself as being unforgivable, and therefore he’s not racist. I’m sad to say I don’t think that will ever change for him.

I don’t know how to change that dynamic. Sometimes I think it’s probably something that has to be slowly filtered out over generations. :confused:


I’ve just gotten better at asking questions. Sometimes I’m much too confrontational. But I think just asking a question to start a conversation can be helpful. Then preparing yourself to actually listen to what the person has to say (also something I really need to work on.)

The thing is - you’ve already realized how you’ve contributed to racism by being silent or by joining in on a conversation that would now make you uncomfortable only because you didn’t know better. Now you can choose not to remain silent. It may be harder for older generations, but I think you are proof that anyone can change. You could say - hey dad, that bothers me; I think it’s been normal for us in the past to talk like that, but why do you think they are really the cause of problem x? Then there’s a chance for him to learn.

Part of it is our brains I think like to simplify problems and if we can just blame them on a group, we don’t have to deal with life’s complexity. I feel like we often think of racism as something insidious and very evil, when actually it can be the result of what were good intentions or simple misunderstandings and add up to be something that is very horrible over time.

I joined a racism study group through my employer this summer. It was a little hard - the group was almost all white and didn’t always agree, but I learned a lot just through reading more and we all really liked discussing the issues. I thought this movie we watched was a really good example of good intentions leading to obviously racist policies and outcomes. It didn’t get really political, which I also liked. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krfcq5pF8u8 So I definitely recommend. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve found a conversation is better than no conversation at all. Our generation is definitely so different - I have family, friends, and classmates in bi-racial relationships. That just wasn’t the case in my parents’ generation like it is in ours. Inevitably, I think it will lead to change in the country. That’s why I think our definitions of race in the U.S. will become outdated quickly and we should begin to jettison them - not to erase people’s cultures or how they look, but to celebrate that those features aren’t necessarily fixed over generations…

Sorry, I’m long-winded, just felt like sharing all that. :slight_smile: I appreciate anyone giving me feedback where I make mistakes or can do better.


That thought has crossed my mind more than once. Being a Gen X’er I have interacted with the WWII generation, baby boomers, and millennials. You can see the progress society has made, and it does lend credence to the idea that racism decreases as older generations die off. I remember visiting family from the WWII generation and they would have Sambo figurines adorning their ponds in front of their houses as if there was nothing wrong with it. I’m probably not the only person from my generation to say, “Grandpa, they’re called Brazil nuts”.

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Wow. You have brought back memories of waiting to get my haircut in a barber shop in a Midwestern grain elevator small town in the 1950’s. The racism of that time was such a casual part of the banter. (I am tempted to provide other examples—and there is indeed value to reminding ourselves of just how egregious was the racism of those days—but in this case I’m going to leave them in the past. At least we can celebrate that such conduct is far less acceptable some sixty years later.)

Heh, I could probably do that with my mom, but there are so many obstacles to go through before I could even begin to take this approach with my dad. To get him to have an open and vulnerable conversation about an issue like this would take… well, a miracle.

I’ve been trying to change the way I approach tough conversations, though. Like you said, asking questions, trying to tone down the things that bog down the discussion. We’ll see!

Oh, I did watch that over the summer. It was pretty startling how much I didn’t know is going on in this country.

Believe it or not, I had to look up those references. I guess I haven’t interacted with the WWII generation. That kind of cements this idea a bit more for me. Ugh, that’s depressing. I wonder if people 3 generations in the future will see me as backwards.

I had to look that up.

Growing up in Australia, they were always called “Brazil nuts”. But the Wikipedia entry does mention the alternative name that I had never heard.

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