. . . How? Walk the Walk, Even for a Moment
I am entirely unqualified to talk about race. I am a middle-class, largely unoppressed white woman. But I want to do something about racial tension, and there are others like me who wonder where to start.
The only way to fix things is to talk, listen, and learn. People of different races have to know each other. But how do you go about Making a Friend of a Certain Race? The project sounds righteously patronizing and smacks of tokenism. Still, it's harder to learn anything about race without a friend who can explain.
In college, when I wanted to know what black people thought about something, I asked my roommate, Carol, and she would tell me to go ask them.
She also told me about the pain of seeing surprised, disappointed looks from job interviewers who believed her face didn't match her resume. I wouldn't have known about this, except from her.
I don't know what it feels like when neighbors of a crime scene I'm reporting on refuse to answer the door because they fear me. But some of my journalist friends do.
I wish I lived in a time when no one says, "If you don't get that job, it's only because you're white." I know they're thinking the hurtful inverse of that statement, about people of color in the workplace.
I'm lucky to have a friend, a former co-worker, who forgave my mistaking him initially for the other black reporter in the newsroom. He suggests making yourself vulnerable by putting yourself in a situation where you're the only white face in a crowd, at a church, a concert, a social function. Learn what it feels like. Walk that walk, even briefly.
I like hearing that a white friend's daughter has a crush on Michael Jordan, and one of her classmates said, "Oh, you mean the bald guy?" instead of "the black guy?"
But overall, the slights seem more pervasive. A Latino hears the car doors locking, one by one, as he walks past a stoplight. An Asian watches women put purse straps over their shoulders as he approaches.
Whites can fight that. Read up on race, watch movies from different cultures, listen to unfamiliar music. Ask respectful questions.
Forgive the naivet of this suggestion, and don't quote it out of context: If you see someone who doesn't look like you, standing in line at the grocery store or walking through your neighborhood, smile at them.
It's unspeakably awkward to say this, but maybe it's a step toward something important - a counterbalance to countless hostile interactions between strangers.
Make another person feel welcome. Surprise them. Smile.
* Tina Kelley is a freelance writer based in Seattle. Her articles appear in The New York Times and Outside magazine.