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Entry Points

HannahB's picture

I had a wonderful, thoughtful conversation with my friend last night—the one my last post referred to, in regards to his class background. I wanted to be upfront with him about the fact that I wrote about him for my class because I felt that, although my post was vague, he had the right to know that his experience was influencing me and was entering my thoughts and conversations. We ended up talking for close to an hour about what I had written and other related topics. Reflecting back on the openness and honesty of our talk, I have one nagging question that I keep asking myself: Why do I not feel comfortable having these same rich and important conversations with my upper middle class white friends?

In the last year or so, I have started to seek out individuals with whom I can talk through some of my immerging understandings of my own identity, background, etc. These friends are, almost without fail, either students of color, students of a different class background than my own, or other students who study education or who I know to be comparably as aware of their cultural identities, as I am. These conversations and the people I have them with stand, in my mind, in direct opposition to my closest friends who I live with. I live in a dorm with twenty other people, some of my closest friends, and I do not feel comfortable talking explicitly about race, class, culture, our identities—the assumptions we carry, etc. with them. (It should be noted that I primarily live with upper middle class white people).

In Group 6’s conversation, last week, we talked about why people assume issues of race, class, culture “don’t matter to them” and tried to generate ideas of how we could shift this mindset. I’m not sure we really generated any answers. I think about this all the time—why can’t I talk to my closest friends about these issues? Why do I feel like they don’t care? What am I afraid will happen if I do try to bring it up? I’ll tell you, I’m afraid they would be the kind of people to assume it isn’t their concern, doesn’t relate to them, etc. and would tease me for being “too serious” for bringing it up.

One of the reasons I’m taking Multicultural Education is because I’m determined to find entry points into these conversations. I think many of the people I live with genuinely believe it is not their concern. They do not view themselves as racist; it is just not their issue and so they are passive or dismissive. I do not know how to broach these topics without causing people to be defensive or dismissive, joking off the topic. How do you enter these conversations in your daily experience, outside of an academic context? How do you provide safe entry points for other people to be willing to come to the table openly and honestly? I wish I knew.