Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Behind the Talk

I've gone back and forth about whether or not to delete some of the uglier comments that were left on my post about Lusco's Restaurant.  The simple truth is that talking about race is anything but simple.  It's complicated, messy, humiliating, dangerous, and sometimes it doesn't seem worth it.  But it is.  If we can keep our wits about us, we can move forward, one conversation at a time.

I'm no expert, but I sincerely think that one of the critical aspects of successfully talking about race is actually the stuff behind the talk.  This is one of the things I learned from my grandfather.  Booker was well regarded in both the black and white communities.  Blacks saw him as a successful business owner who ran a restaurant that celebrities frequented when they were in the Delta, he owned several rental houses, and had what appeared to be friendship with influential whites.  Dentists, doctors, and lawyers shared laughs with him.  On the white side of Greenwood he was the most dearly loved waiter in the town's most popular restaurant for the upper class.

He had it made, and he threw it all away in a moment to do what we all need to do when we talk about race.  He showed us his humanity.

He did not say mean things.  He did not make fun of anyone.  Instead, he shed his image of success, layer by layer removing his guise of strength and joviality, and told the nation that he lay awake in bed each night worrying about the future.  He told us that the way he was sometimes treated at work made him want to cry.

Our country is in a mess.  It seems almost impossible to talk about race without lowering ourselves to schoolyard communication techniques.  I think sometimes we forget that we're talking to actual people and we begin to feel as though we're talking to the issue itself, as if it has taken on the flesh of the one we're arguing with.

There are some basic truths that we may want to hold on to when we engage in these complicated conversations.  We all have the capacity to love, to hurt, and to ache.  We all love our children and would do whatever we think needs to be done to protect them.  (Yes, I know there are some crazies out there who do not love their children, but we're not talking about them).  We want to protect our homes from the unknown.  We want safety and a hope for a bright future.

Let's start there.  Let's start with what makes us the same, because what makes us different is often times found in the slight nuances of how we respond to these same intrinsic yearnings and desires.  At the core of who I am, beneath my shade of skin, underneath my life choices, there is a warm core that is probably similar to the core of a racist.

One of the most difficult things I've had to do in the last 18 months is sit down with people who knew my grandfather but failed to see his humanity.  I was tempted to do the same to them.  I wanted to humiliate them, cut them down, and expose their lack of understanding.  But that is not the response of the rational and it denies the beautiful gift that my grandfather gave to me and to all of us.

Instead of inciting more hate, I push forward, determined to find a common ground of shared human experiences with everyone, even those who might cringe if they saw my son in an alley with a hoodie atop his head.  I make a conscious choice to be a peacemaker, because it's what Booker Wright would do.


  1. Powerful! I love that you are not an expert in race relations it helps me to see this subject in terms of how it impacts my life and how I can participate in the conversation.

    1. YES! I often consult with a man who is the Dean of a department at ASU and he's written about race for decades. Many times I've said to him that I don't feel qualified to talk about race because I don't have a PhD in the subject. He always reminds me that there are no true experts.

      When it comes to these types of topics, just being alive is all that any of us needs in order to enter the den of conversation. Thank you for connecting with that piece of this, because it's vital!

    2. Yvette, Thank you again for sharing your family's story with us.

  2. Thank you for sharing this important story. GI

  3. Yvette: I love your strength and courage, dear sister. Most of all, I love your humility. Apparently, it's in your DNA.

    Thank you for continuing a tradition of openness, peacefulness, and transparency. Those qualities are exactly what our nation has needed all along.

    “When I stand before thee at the day's end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing” (Rabindranath Tagore).

    Much love and and always,