Juleyka Lantigua-Williams: Open up the race conversation

09/24/2013 12:00 AM

09/23/2013 6:08 PM

We need to broaden our conversation on race. Too often, it consist of a dialogue between blacks and whites, while the rest of us in other ethnic groups are shunted aside like spectators in the stands, watching the heated match unfold, swaying our heads from side to side.

And both sides are dug in.

Many blacks want whites to atone for their historical sins, admit their privilege and make reparations that lead to a more equal playing field for generations of African-Americans who are still entrapped by a legacy of oppression and persecution.

Meanwhile, many whites cling fiercely to the notion of the rugged individualism that the United States was built upon, exalting the values of self-determination, education and hard work, and attesting to the possibilities inherent in our capitalistic system.

They are both right – and they are both wrong.

First, race relations can no longer be defined only by the parameters set by blacks and whites. Our society is far more pluralistic than it was even during the civil rights era, which ushered in the beginning of meaningful change.

Blacks and whites cannot simply keep pointing the finger at each other, while ignoring countless other groups that need to partake in the conversation.

Second, the historical tendency of blacks and whites to essentially bait and goad each other is alienating to many of us who are more interested in having a deeper, more nuanced debate about race.

Third, many whites seem hard-pressed to separate race from an individual’s abilities and talents.

Take Serena Williams, who pulverized the playing field to win her fifth U.S. Open title. She is revered by most blacks (and many others) for being a superb athlete and an inspiring role model. But it seems that the prejudices associated with a confident, intelligent and accomplished black woman lead many whites (including several competitors and some sports commentators) to treat her like an unruly menace on the court, not polished enough for the elite sport.

Last, I sense that some blacks and whites would prefer to continue in their hand-to-hand combat than have to own up to their failures and responsibilities for setting a negative tone for such a necessary but needlessly restricted conversation.

Let’s move beyond these old stances and open up this conversation.

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