Last week’s racial carnage and the call for a national race dialogue takes us back to a 2014 survey that found 91 percent of white Americans have no black friends. There’s no one at the dialogue table. There isn’t even a table.
With understandable furor, African Americans are turning inward and escalating an exit strategy, calling to consolidate their considerable economic power, boycott major retailers, and separate from whites. Stung by ongoing prejudice, some say they are taking steps to minimize contact with whites in social and work settings.
We protest, post furiously to social media, and call for gun restrictions, but we continually sidestep the dialogue because it takes courage, particularly for whites, to get into the rot of racism. But the truth is that nothing will change until whites acknowledge systemic racism exists; that silence makes you a collaborator; and that digging into the stubborn roots of white privilege will help you shed your fragility and gain tools to fight white supremacy and injustice from within.
A local group is taking the cross-racial dialogue to heart. Miami Shores People of Color (PoC), established last fall to promote PoC on boards and commissions in our community, is planning a series of dialogues this fall around readings, such as “Waking up White” by Debby Irving, “The Case for Reparations” by Ta’Nehisi Coates, and “White Debt” by Eula Biss.
People identify our community as white. But 54 percent of residents are PoC, if you include Latinos, so we are uniquely poised for this complicated journey.
“Whites rarely have the opportunity to . . . be held accountable for privilege, and to have important conversations,” David J. Leonard, associate professor of critical culture, gender, and race at Washington State University, told the website Take Part after the survey by the Public Religion Research Institute came out. “Lacking the language to talk about race and to engage cross-racially will impact white people’s ability and willingness to develop these friendships.”
The latest police shooting of black men and the sniper slayings of police mark a watershed moment to launch such dialogues. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said the driver killed by an officer in his state probably would be alive if he’d been white. Surprisingly, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Donald Trump VP hopeful Newt Gingrich said whites will never understand the experience of Black America. Though numbingly obvious to blacks, such statements by powerful white men are a vital force to awaken whites from their racial slumber.
As exhausted as blacks are by persistent racism, many whites appear baffled. Even bloodless statistics of the school-to-prison pipeline, segregation, mortgage redlining, biased health care and justice systems — stunning evidence of the ongoing effects of slavery and Jim Crow on us all — leave many whites unmoved.
But whites who have dialogued say that the act of listening, speaking, and being heard across the racial divide — perhaps for the first time — has been life-changing.
There are already blueprints for such racial healing:
▪ President Clinton in 1998 launched One America, a commission that collected feedback in 89 cities. Its report and how-to guide are online. Scores of grassroots dialogues grew from this national effort.
▪ The Cuba Study Group, a Miami-based Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), holds annual conferences at Miami-Dade College attended by international reconciliation experts.
▪ Southern Truth & Reconciliation in Atlanta; Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking at Marquette University Law School in Indiana; and the Greensboro TRC in North Carolina share experience and materials.
▪ The Miami Conference of Christians and Jews holds discussions on race, ethnicity and religion.
We know that dialogue, even the simple act of getting to know each other, works. We are doing it and hope others will follow.
Roni Bennett is a longtime Miami Shores resident and co-founder of Miami Shores PoC. She runs a commercial real estate business with her husband. Jordana Hart is an attorney and allied member of PoC.