Talking about race is hard. But in recent months concerns about racism and its impact have intensified, continuing to bubble to the surface of our national conversation. So how do we have those discussions in a constructive way?
Attention to inequities around racial justice was sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in May and has been fueled by additional killings and shootings of black Americans by police. These incidents have touched off recent protests in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Rochester, New York. As these events have unfolded, many Americans have made an effort to learn more about racism and its impact, and to talk about these issues — even when uncomfortable.
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.
Susan Goldberg, a 58-year-old white woman who lives in New York City, grew up in a racially diverse community in West Orange, New Jersey, but says the shootings, the protests and the social media outcry have caused her to reflect. As the founder and CEO of a leadership consulting business, Goldberg talks about diversity and inclusion at work, but she says she's also begun talking more with family and friends about these topics.
"I've never thought about putting my feet in someone else's shoes and what that would be like for other people that were very different from me and that had a bias [against them] just because of the color of their skin,” she says.
Those discussions are a path toward learning and growing, says Edna Kane-Williams, senior vice president for multicultural leadership at AARP. “Our ability to talk to each other about race — in a way that illuminates both shared perspectives and our differences — is so crucial to our future,” she says. “We have to find a way to have respectful discourse. It's the only way we can move forward, and heal."
People are talking about race
This type of reflection — and a need to be able to talk about tough topics — spans races and generations. Erica Coles, a 57-year-old Black woman from Wilmington, Delaware, says as a child she was always aware of race, but it was not discussed much within her community. She was simply taught by her parents to treat everyone equally.
Now, race is a constant subject of discussion in her life — even her 4-year-old grandson has asked questions about police actions in recent altercations. He's starting to understand and hear race-related news stories on TV, she says. “You know, you try to explain to him in terms where he understands,” Coles says.