It’s hard when we find the courage to begin a conversation, only to discover that things aren’t turning out as we’d planned. And I can’t really think of a conversation in our culture where that seems more than in the race conversation.
When we sit down to talk about race, we typically have one set of spoken expectations, and a completely different set of unspoken expectations.
And it’s the unspoken expectations that we carry closest to our hearts.
Will they see me?
Will they understand my pain?
Will they embarrass me for what I don’t understand?
Will I say something stupid that will leave me feeling foolish for even having tried?
But what we say out loud is:
We should talk about race.
We should take action.
We should know how to fix this.
We should already know how to make this conversation work.
The thing is, in between believing we should already know how to have the race conversation, and the shame that we feel because we’ve tried unsuccessfully to have the conversation, is actually learning how to have the conversation.
The How of the Race Conversation isn’t obvious. It takes work to discover how to navigate conversations about race. Work that our society frequently dismisses as secondary or unnecessary (because we cling the belief that any conversation worth having on a consistent basis should be a conversation that flows easily).
But when things aren’t what we expect, it’s not usually a sign that we ought to abandon ship. It is an invitation to try a new approach. A different tool. To examine the separation between our spoken and unspoken needs so that we can create more common ground where we can connect.
The disappointment that comes when our expectations aren’t met is a signal that we need to get curious, be open to a different approach, and choose to shift towards each other (and ourselves).