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caption: Professor Ralina Joseph at the University of Washington says to just start talking about race.
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Professor Ralina Joseph at the University of Washington says to just start talking about race.
University of Washington

Have That Awkward Conversation About Race – And Yes, Whiteness Too

Protests over high profile police shootings have renewed calls to discuss police treatment of African-Americans – and talk about race relations in general. But how do we have those difficult and often awkward conversations? KUOW’s Jamala Henderson put that question to University of Washington Professor Ralina Joseph. Highlights from the interview:

How do I talk about race with family and friends?

I tell them you need to just start talking. It needs to be a conversation about what does your family look like? What does your family talk about? What are the silences that you have? There's not one simple answer. The answer is honestly engaging in dialog engaging in conversation.

What makes race so difficult to talk about?

Some people refuse to name people by race and ethnicity for example in thinking that that's a progressive move that shows to them they're colorblind and they're above labeling people.

But I think that's actually part of the problem. Pretending that people are all the same, that we don't see difference, doesn't actually make disproportionality go away. It just means that we don't actually have the tools to be able to talk about describe race.

It also means that if you're thinking that it's a negative thing to always talk about race, and that racial difference must have a negative connotation, and we know that that's not the case. …

I tell (students) that the step forward is being uncomfortable. The step forward is acknowledging this difference that you see. None of us is actually colorblind, and we don't denigrate that experience of difference.

What I try to tell students is that we need to not just think about our own individual experience but to go beyond ourselves and to try to understand what life looks like for other people. We all walk down the street in very different racialized bodies, and that means that we have very different racialized experiences.

What ice breaker questions can start these conversations?

What does your race mean to you? Not how do you identify racially -- which is a check box on the Census.

I think that for people of color we can think about what that means. For white people, because of the way in which whiteness is not named, that's a harder experience. But I think that it gets for them to name that whiteness and to name those points of privilege that are often unnamed.

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