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What Change Sounds Like

Last night after we got home from work, Greg and I sat facing the windows in our living room, feet up on the radiators, listening to Barack Obama’s speech on the racial divide in America. Dusk was settling over the neighborhood and I sipped at a glass of red wine in my hand.

His speech was just stunning. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a president say things this country so badly needs to hear and every word out of his mouth simply made Hillary and McCain look that much more like political robots saying the same things that every politician always says.

It wasn’t until I was in a grad program for psychology that I was forced to really think about and talk about my feelings concerning race. In a couple of different classes that I was required to take for my degree, the focus was entirely on getting students to honestly get in touch with all of their prejudices and fears and beliefs about other races, cultures and classes.

How could we expect to be psychotherapists if there we were going to have clients with whom we could not get past our own prejudices about?

These classes were incredibly hard and very scary and very powerful. We sat in a circle night after night really talking about our ethnic backgrounds, about the neighborhoods and class systems in which we were raised. We talked about our parent’s views on race and ethnicity, we repeated the racial slurs our fathers uttered and we said aloud the misconceptions about the person sitting next to us that we’d always carried.

Those classes, those nights sharing some of my most secret thoughts about the people with whom I inhabit this earth, were some of the most eye-opening, heartbreaking, and truly life-changing moments I’ve ever had. I wish every American could have a similar experience.

And after having gone through this process of finally beginning to explore my beliefs and long-held ideas, I realized that the reason so many of these prejudices exist is because we don’t talk about them enough. There is no dialogue about them. People are afraid to explore how they really feel. No one feels safe. And this can only lead to a more deeply seeded and secretive set of prejudices.

Last night Barack Obama opened the doors for this country to begin having a truly honest conversation. Let’s not close them again. 

4 Comments

  1. GOBAMA!!!!!!! :) ))))

    Comment by Francesca mccaffery on March 21, 2008 at 2:54 am

  2. I hate my “unconscious liberal prejudice” because it comes out more as fear and feeling if I go out of my way to, say, introduce myself to people of other races on the street, that’s somewhat of a form of prejudice.
    At the same time, through the course of my day to day life, I don’t really associate with black people or non-Western European or non-Asian people outside of business relations. . .and I’m a different person there for completely different reasons.
    It’s more, for me, the issue of locale and occasion than any conscious reasons. Yet I do come across people of other races and backgounds while riding the bus, walking the street, etc. . .there’s just no occasion to associate with them other than to combat prejudice, which seems like a form of prejudice, in itself, rather than trying to relate to the person as a person.

    Comment by The_Lex on March 21, 2008 at 10:29 am

  3. Very interesting exercise confronting your own predjudices. Everyone should have the opportunity to do it as you did. Of course, I dont have any predjudices, just rationally held firm opinions. Yeah…right.
    Until confronted, they remain a hidden part of me through which I filter reality, blissfully unaware of the distorting lenses. As you pointed out, it is painful too confronting things I dont like about myself but are woven into the fabric of my mind. Of course race is only one element of predjudice when we meet someone. We all make that gestalt judgement when meeting someone new. Race, sex, dress, accent, jewelry, vocabulary, age, health, weight, posture, eye-contact, smell (that probably goes in way below the consious unless it knocks you out) etc etc. But the emphasis in recent has been on overcoming the stereotypes on race and neglecting the rest. Probably just as well as only a certain amount of navel gazing is useful and life is too short to plumb the fetid depths.
    But now I want to put in a good word for predjudice. It saves a lot of time. Allows you to blow away that bum at the bar, to avoid getting cornered by the party bore, identify people with like interests. So predjudice is something we use and apply 20 times a day. It is hardwired and it is useless to pretend away. But the exercises that you went through brought your predjudices to your consious mind and at least potentially within your power to modify. So lets not indulge in self-flagellation about having predjudices, but become consious of them so we can modify them for each person we come to know better. Become flexible with them so they dont become a block to getting to know someone who may well enrich our lives.
    There. Thank you for provoking my thoughts and allowing me to use your blog as a sounding board to clarify my thinking.
    Cheers, Paul

    Comment by Paul on March 24, 2008 at 1:12 am

  4. Wow,I’m glad to hear you guys thinking and talking about it all a little more.
    I think one of the first steps in moving forward is in being able to recognize social constructs for just what they are. There is a lot of shame involved in owning up to ideas and beliefs long-held but if we can step back from that for just a moment and recognize it more as a social construct and less as an extension of who we are, then we inch open that door of change just a little wider.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on March 25, 2008 at 7:40 am

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