Difficulties dialoguing about race

In a classroom of 27 students sit 25 Caucasian students and two black students. An Eastern professor says something to the effect of, “Today we will talk about race and racism.” One black student sits with folded arms as if to say, “This is going nowhere.” The other sits in anticipation. Amidst the sea of white faces, there are reactions of tense anxiety, contemplation, lowered eyes and fearful expectations.

Why does this happen?

Kevin Maness, professor in the communications department, speculates that there are a number of reasons but two main reactions. “They [white students] think, ‘If I say something I’ll be racist,'” he said. “They feel like, ‘Been there done that, I had my racial conversation this week.'”

Senior Ariana Miller agreed. “I’ve more often sensed fear rather than hostility in non-minorities,” she said. “Fear of saying the wrong things, giving the wrong impression, being called racist or even fear of actually being racist.”

Ignorance might be one of the problems at hand. Eastern professor in GPS and management studies Dr. Drick Boyd sees even in adult classes he teaches that most white people do not know that in the Constitution blacks were considered three-fifths of a person.

“I generally find the white students in justice class are open but largely uninformed about the impact that racism still has on people in our society,” he said.

Boyd acknowledged that through lack of interaction and information many students have racist ideas and do not know it. This unknown racism leads to uncomfortable situations in and outside the classrooms.

Miller suggests that for black students, there is an internal conflict that adds to the external problem. “Just because minorities here are not constantly having overtly negative experiences does not mean that maintaining their cultural identity or being deeply understood by their teachers and peers is an easy thing,” she said.

According to Maness, minority students produce their own stigma, stunting controversial conversation that can potentially solve societal ills.

Maness said, “Some blacks are very vocal but just as many feel like, ‘Here we go again, we’ve said this before and if I say something, I’ll no longer be a student but I’ll be black,'” he said. A black student gets tired of being that spokesperson for all black voices, according to Maness.

So there is a divide between those white students who fear saying anything and the black students who are sick of saying something. What then?

“People feel that community is a place without conflict, but reality says that community is a place with conflict,” said Maness.

In light of our Christian environment, the fear that results in lack of conversation is often a product of trying to keep peace.

According to Manness, teachers often create personal distance between racial issues and the student by using topics such as the Civil Rights movement and affirmative action to create a comfortable open forum.

The 17 seconds of uncomfortable silence drags on to one minute. Blank stares and questioning glances are exchanged. Maness describes it as such, “Race is a raw sore for people still.”

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