To be honest, in a world where people are regularly being stopped, arrested, shot, killed and otherwise profiled because of their race, he has every logical reason to be hyper-aware of the fact that he may be being victimized in this way. If you feel he’s casting the net too wide or making himself overly miserable, though, maybe the best way for you to understand where he’s coming from is not to “tell him” he’s being too paranoid, but to ask him about his experience instead. (“What does it feel like to feel as though you’re being treated unfairly because of your race? How can you tell what’s happening? What did you pick up on? How do you think this would have been different if you were white? What about the fact that the waiter was rude to me, too? Did it seem to you like I was treated better? How?”)
Let him know that you’re sincerely curious about this. I have a feeling you might both be surprised by your very different perceptions and your different experiences in the world.
NuKirk: I run a blog full of racial news and information. I won an award for best micro-blog. However, I find it draining at times. How do you deal with this type of topic? I can’t say it’s a “passion” of mine, but helping people is.
JDH: This is a great question, and probably deserves a longer response than I can give here. But, I totally, completely understand what you’re saying. Sometimes the seemingly endless stories about racial disparities, blatant acts of racism and the ways in which bias and stereotypes rear their ugly heads in everything from politics to pop culture can be absolutely sickening.
What helps me to deal with it every day is to try my best to stay connected to a sense of purpose about why I write about this topic. It’s not to simply chronicle how terrible the world can be, to sink into snark and cynicism (although that does happen!) or to spread depressing news. Rather, it’s to increase awareness about what’s happening, to present it in a framework that can enrich people’s understanding of it, to try to take dialogue about this stuff to a level beyond infuriatingly simple talking points, to occasionally insert humor and to try to identify situations that call for compassion and hope, when they exist.
It helps a lot to feel as though I’ve added all I’ve learned along the way to the conversation, and maybe helped others to make better sense of them. I know how thankful I am when writers and thinkers whom I admire really hit the nail on the head—it actually gives me a huge sense of relief and peace—so I focus on trying to do the same whenever I have the tools to do so.
The Root’s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.
Need race-related advice? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously in Race Manners: “Yes, Single Women Can Send Photo Holiday Cards”