When talking about race, make sure to extend grace

Let’s talk about race.

As a black person, I’ve been part of countless conversations about racial issues. Some end well. Others don’t. I’ve found myself in safe spaces, voicing my frustrations with black people who have shared similar experiences. I’ve also spoken with non-blacks who were receptive to challenges they’d never faced but wanted to understand.

I’ve also been caught in stressful debates with people of almost every color. In my experience, these interactions only become tense when individuals refuse to step outside the context of their own lives.

So, let’s talk about grace.

Engaging in a productive conversation about race requires that everyone set aside their pride and be patient with others who are involved.

It’s human nature to believe we see the world perfectly, to think that our experiences serve as a solid framework for every person we encounter. But that type of thinking is irrational. Maybe even immature. The only way to overcome this is by remaining open-minded and showing grace to those who think and experience things differently from us.

I’ve witnessed the aforementioned flawed philosophy at work in people on all sides of these debates. However, there are two groups I see this in the most – blacks and whites.

Let me insert this disclaimer now: I don’t at all intend for my sentiments to describe every individual in either of these groups of people. That being said, if the shoe fits… you know what to do.

To white people: If you’ve grown up in America, you’ve grown up in a country that favors white culture over any other, and that’s the truth. On several occasions, I have encountered white people who have not understood the significance of this, and who refused to try and understand a plight that is not their own. They have difficulty realizing that not experiencing something does not automatically negate someone else’s reality.

If you’re a white person who has a tough time leaving race-based conversations with more perspective than you entered, I challenge you to remember that every person you speak with is the sum of every experience they have ever had. Some minorities have really been hurt because of discrimination, whether intentional or unintentional. It’s not fair to dismiss them because you don’t think they should have been hurt by those things. Take what they say for what it is and try to understand how your actions or inactions could affect those around you.

To black people: If you’ve made a habit of demonizing people simply because they’re white, you’re wrong. Most white people are not actually bent on seeing you crushed beneath the weight of white privilege and institutional racism. It pains me to have conversations with black people who can only be proud of their race if it means despising white people. That’s not true pride.

Blacks have to be able to have grace for what some whites cannot immediately understand. It’s not an easy thing to gain perspective on an experience you have never had and will likely never have. I promise you’ll leave conversations a lot less angry if you enter knowing that some of your white peers don’t have a framework with which to instantly grasp the issues being discussed.

If we want to resolve the race issues in our country, it’s going to take more of what we’re all tired of – talking.

At this point, we’re no longer wrestling against legislation that blatantly discriminates minorities. Blacks aren’t fighting for the right to vote. Instead, we’re facing painful microaggressions and complex institutional structures that are set up against some minorities.

Race issues are constantly in flux. Because we’re all (hopefully) continuously listening and learning, there’s nothing more important than the ability to have grace for those we’re speaking with. These discussions require time and patience, and they’ll only be successful if we learn to see beyond the ends of our black and white noses.

Rae Jefferson is a senior journalism major from Houston. She is copy desk chief for the Lariat.