Starbucks has recently come up with a new way to get people talking, talking about race. They have kicked off a #RaceTogether campaign that is intended to get people talking about a HUGE issue in our nation, race and along with it, racism. Now, I applaud Starbucks for the recognition of this very important issue in the United States and the desire to get people talking about it. What I take issue with is the idea that I would want to talk to the barista behind the counter about it or some random person I met in line while waiting for my coffee (Ha! those that know me will know this will NEVER happen!!! But you get the point.).
Conversations about race are conversations that need to happen. Absolutely! As a history teacher, these conversations need to happen and continue happening so that we can learn from the past, we can learn from others experiences, we can acknowledge their experiences, we can start to see this issue through another’s eyes, and on and on. Knowing intellectually about the history of this country is very different than hearing about it through the eyes of someone that has had those experiences. It is also important to acknowledge the history of race and racism in this nation (not just towards blacks, but any other minority group as well), and to help move the nation forward by having these types of conversations.
But these are not conversations that I want to have with some random barista or stranger in the line at Starbucks. These are conversations I want to have with people I trust and have an ongoing relationship with. These are conversations I want to have with one of my best friends for 25+ years or with a friend and former teacher, for example, people that I trust, I can be open and honest with and they with me. This is because these can be very intense and emotional conversations and if I am having it with someone that is a stranger, I will not understand their emotion and it will be easier to pass off their experiences. Yet, if I am discussing these issues with someone closer to me, it will be much more difficult to pass it off and we will also know each other well enough to be able to ask questions, be open to the responses, and to know when it is necessary to put the conversation on hold or take a break due to the intensity of the conversation. And this conversation can be picked up again at a later time, something that can’t be done with the barista or random stranger.
Now that we are a transracial family, we are much more acutely aware of these issues than we ever were before, but we can not understand them from a first person perspective. Thus, it is vitally important that we have these conversations with people that can and do so that we can help our son deal with these issues and help him process experiences when he has them. One of the best ways we can help him with this is to have people in his life like him that he can talk to about these issues and that can provide him with first hand knowledge about how they handled similar situations. We must continue to educate ourselves, but we can not simply leave it at intellectual knowledge. We are going to face questions from strangers, friends, and family so having the difficult conversations about race, racism, microaggressions, etc. is extremely important for us. Just not at Starbucks!