Open Dialogue about Race Will Allow All Individuals to Develop Further Understanding

Alisha Agard

Illustration by Lya Hernandez.

Last semester was tough. The school I loved turned into a place that caused me to feel anxious when talking about a topic that resonates with me the most: the topic of race.

After the events that took place last semester, a much needed discussion about race needed to be had, but it wasn’t going to happen that easily. I’ve heard people say they were uncomfortable talking about race. Since there are a lot of people on this campus who have never had to talk about race before, the vocabulary and understanding of how to talk about race just wasn’t there. I understand the fear some people have when it comes to talking about race––that they might offend a person of color or that their opinion might not be valued––but the more time we spend talking about how to talk about race, the less time we spend on actually having  important conversations about race.

Last semester, the staff and faculty made an attempt to have a conversation about the infamous WhitmanEncounters site and how the site has become a cesspool of hatred and intolerance. The event was advertised as a safe place for Whitman students to engage in discussion about topics regarding race, but it seemed that the intention of the event was not equal to the outcome. When I left the event, it felt like my evening was spent talking to people about why it’s important to talk about race and how there needs to be a discussion about how to talk about race, but to me that’s not enough.

The tense racial climate that I have experienced on campus is nothing new to me in my junior year at Whitman. The microaggressions I experience daily have been present since I stepped foot on this campus, and I feel that by dancing around the issue, the tense racial climate will not be alleviated any time soon. By spending the majority of our time talking about how to talk about race, the problems that exist on campus will continue to be present. As young children, we learned how to do many things, such as tying our shoes, riding our bikes and reading. We didn’t spend time agonizing about how to go about these tasks; we eased our way into them and with practice were able to master these tasks. The same approach needs to be taken when talking about race.

I understand that race and racism are difficult topics, and since it is so difficult to have these discussions, it is likely that people involved may feel some sort of guilt, anger or defensiveness––but being afraid will not allow any of us to grow as individuals. It will not allow us to understand how to live in a world and work with people who are different. If you don’t know how to talk about race, just start talking about it, and eventually you will get the hang of it. Ask questions, express your opinion but be respectful, and you’ll be okay. You might make mistakes, but like tying shoes, riding bikes and learning to read, the mistakes you make will help you learn.