The Trayvon Martin case is just one of the recent incidents that remind us of how difficult it is for Americans to talk about race and racism, said Derald Wing Sue, PhD, of Teachers College, Columbia University. Sue’s comments came during his Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest award address on Saturday.
“The acquittal of George Zimmerman, in which the judge, the prosecution, the defense and even the juror who spoke out said that race was not an issue … [ignored] the invisible elephant in the room,” he said. “Race was always present.”
Sue has just completed four studies examining why race is so challenging for people to discuss. When it comes to whites, for example, Sue has found that they don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to be seen as racist. They may also have a fear of realizing their own unacknowledged racism or of confronting the privileges that they have just because they are white.
There are, however, ways to have successful talks about race, he said. That can happen when people:
- Truly listen to each other and engage in dialogue, rather than the monologues so popular with the talking heads on TV.
- Understand the worldview of others.
- Become less defensive.
- Become increasingly comfortable with differences between themselves and others and see those differences not as impediments but as sources of strength.
- Achieve new insights about themselves, about others and about how society treats people of different social and sexual orientations.
To find out how educators can facilitate successful race talks in the classroom, watch for in an article by Sue slated for the October issue of American Psychologist.