The Journal Gazette
Sunday, March 22, 2020 1:00 am

'Color quiet' life not black and white

Failure to discuss race - whether out of discomfort or denial - perpetuates inequalities

Antoinette Francher-Donald

With the ability to connect with others around the world so easily, rapidly changing racial demographics and casual conversations about race, why are race relationships still strained?

If you listen to talk radio and navigate social media, some talking heads tout that contentious race relations are no longer and race reconciliation is a thing of the past.

Some even tout justice for all. If enough people say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” it must be true.

Yet, research paints a very different picture – and a number of my life experiences do as well.

Beverly Daniel Tatum, a clinical psychologist, scholar, teacher, author and race expert, shares her observations in her book “Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”

Tatum says one reason students from similar racial backgrounds may gather together is that '“connecting with peers who are having a similar experience as your own serves as a buffer, as a protective force. ... [It] is also a way of affirming your identity.'”

Gathering only with people like ourselves allows us to avoid examining faulty beliefs. Letting these commonly learned thoughts go unchecked gives space for stereotyping – which many times carries zero merit – and justification for those beliefs.

A way to avoid conversations around injustices/inequalities is to deny they exist and that all have a role in reconciliation.

An example of color/race avoidance that I've heard countless times is “I don't see color” (often said by white associates). Although I believe that statement is meant to ensure people of color that inequalities are absent, most likely it evokes the opposite.

Being “color blind” is a substitute for avoiding race-related topics; and avoiding such discussion is referred to as “color silence.” To explain this concept, Tatum explains that turning backwards on a moving walkway will still get people to their destination, just more slowly than those intentionally walking forward. Silence allows dominant groups to retain untethered social and economic powers, as well as preserve policies and procedures that secure advantage.

Unless an individual lacks eyesight, he sees skin color. Additionally, race, color and culture are used interchangeably, but are different.

One's skin color does not determine one's race or culture.

An example of racial dissonance was the election of President Barack Obama. Many white associates shared that they felt that with his election, the United States had moved past negative race relations and African Americans were now equal and free of discrimination.

Sadly, this sense of equality is not felt by the vast majority of people of color I know.

So why does race evoke strong feelings? Because of inequalities (power and wealth gaps) for African Americans. In a country where the pain from slavery has not been genuinely discussed, taught or has been denied altogether, tensions persist. Denying this history and its negative effects that blacks still endure has created a false belief that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Slavery wove financial and other injustices into this country's tapestry that still linger.

I have heard remarks such as, “Just get over it. That happened years ago.” “If he would work harder, he would not be in his position.”

Years ago for whom? I am two generations removed from being a sharecropper. My paternal grandparents were from Mississippi and family members were subjected to signs that read, “No Colored People” and “Whites Only.”

Sadly, the phrase “work harder” is used in our economic system to deflect blame for the wealth gap between groups and avoid acknowledging generational wealth and privilege. The stats are a real picture of the financial divide between white families and African American and Hispanic families.

Presently, white families have 90% more wealth; by 2053, white families are projected to have 100% more wealth than minorities. Hence, when minorities fall on hard times, recovering is difficult and many times loss is great. Generational wealth and system design continue to leave vulnerable groups behind.

At times, I remain “color quiet” because I feel some are not ready to hear others' reality. Introducing a discussion may lead to a one-way conversation, even denial. “Color quietness” is difficult to accept, but is quite frequently my reality.

Fort Wayne resident Antoinette Francher-Donald is a teacher, tutor and community volunteer.

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