How to engage in interracial dialogue when you have no friends of color

George Shuffleton Writing Seminar Class

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As you might know from our previous blog posts and from just knowing us, you know that we are supporters of interracial dialogue. We have been a part of our college’s Critical Conversations program for a few years now–Critical Conversation is Carleton’s version of Intergroup Dialogue. A key principle of intergroup dialogue is that there is a diverse set of participants in these sustained and structured dialogue about identity, power, and privilege. If a dialogue group is focused on race, for example, it is ideal to have half of the participants who identify as White and half who identify as people of color. At Carleton, our groups do not focus on race solely but the general idea is to have groups that are diverse along various identity groups. We believe that, in order to understand differences in experiences and identities, it’s important to have people in the room with a range of experiences and understandings of how their identities matter in the world.

However, these kinds of interracial settings for dialogue about race often have to be intentionally organized because of the high levels of racial segregation that continues to exist in the U.S. As one study found, 75% of White Americans have no friends of color. How then are these White folx supposed to engage in interracial dialogue?

One way that some folx have tried to do so is to reach out to people who are visible in the public eye for speaking about race. We want to highlight today two discussions about what happens when the only people of color a White person knows is a celebrity and how these folx of color feel about engaging in conversations about race with people they don’t know. Hmm, given the topic of our last post, we’re seeing a theme here, right? Shall we call it incidents of “Random Racial Interrogative Accosting”? RRIA, for short. Rhymes with diarrhea. [Shoutout to our buddy, Kevin Wolfe, for helping us come up with that! Thank you, brother!]

Both of these discussions feature one of our favorite media person who speaks about race–Gene Demby who co-hosts the podcast, NPR’s Code Switch.

First is a conversation published on Slate that starts with a particular incident of RRIA that happened to Gene Demby and the second discussion is on the podcast, About Race, where Demby talks more about this incident.

Check these out and let us know if you’ve ever had a RRIA experience yourself as a person of color!

P.S. Given the current racial demographics of the country and residential segregation patterns, it can be hard for White folx to figure out how to get started on these kinds of conversations. Here are a few resources and local organizations:

Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism–from Ferguson to Charleston

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) MN

Workshops by YWCA Minneapolis’s racial justice department

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