The Conversation on Race

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In college, I attended a Christian Men’s rally where two speakers, one white, one black, addressed racial reconciliation. Longtime friends, they had spent years working through these issues together.

When the white speaker addressed the white men present specifically, he exhorted us to pursue relationships with people different from ourselves, to acknowledge the privilege we are born into and not to hoard that privilege but use it for the good of all.

Then the black speaker exhorted the black men to not use racial oppression as an excuse to avoid responsibility for the example they set for their community.

The white men sitting in front of us seemed defensive and dismissive of the white speaker, but cheered loudly when the black speaker addressed the black audience.

I’ve been thinking about that rally while reading the responses to my Facebook posts during our latest supposed national conversation about race. I’ve noted who has more to say about the loss of black lives and who has more to say about violent protests and it tells me we have a lot to overcome if this conversation is going anywhere.


Nobody wants to be the first to blink and admit that not only is my perspective incomplete, but I also have a real and important part in the change we need. Admitting the other guy has a point doesn’t let him off the hook, and taking responsibility isn’t accepting blame.

In my experience, the reluctance to do either is a human condition that affects us equally. I see no group -- racial or otherwise -- more inclined to defensiveness or humility, blaming or repenting, being open-minded or willfully ignorant.

I am just as guilty of this as the next person, but I want things to change. I don’t have any pat answers, so for now I’m just going to try to listen better. Not just listen for holes in others’ arguments and jumping in whenever there’s a pause. I’ve been doing that for a long time, and it hasn’t resulted in any productive change for anyone. I want to really listen, and let myself be humbled, and let myself be changed.

With a Perspective, I’m Matt McDonell.

Matt McDonell is a high school librarian in San Francisco.