“In those two interrupted minutes, Mr. President, you can say anything you want. I can [ask] a question about race but if you want to answer about something else, go ahead.”
Even if you scour the transcript from the presidential debate on September 29, 2020, you will not find any other topic or area where the moderator directly invites either nominee to ignore the topic at hand in interest to discuss something else. The moderator’s choice to extend such an invitation – to avoid the topic of race – may not have been a choice laced with malice, but it is a choice worth addressing.
Each time that we as Americans put off the topic of “race,” we also put off the topic of racial equity. When we avoid discussing how racial groups experience life differently in the United States, we avoid the opportunity to discuss how to close the gaps that exist among racial groups in our country.
Some people may choose to isolate themselves from conversations about race because they may not understand race relations, especially in a historical context. Maybe they isolate themselves from conversations about race because sometimes those conversations can feel uncomfortable. No matter what the reason may be, now is the time to advance education and knowledge about the history of race in America. Now is the time to lean into discomfort about race, and ask ourselves why discomfort exists when we discuss the topic. The mere existence of “discomfort” during these conversations inherently suggests that there is a problem – one that cannot be fixed by shoving race into a closet, locking the door, and throwing away the key.
Sometimes while discussing race, speakers may make errors, like – conflating the topic of race with the topic of “violence,” “crime,” or “law and order,” which actually happened during the September 29th debate. Sleepily creating incorrect links between race and violence, crime, and/or law and order is dangerous, and can foster the spread of stereotypes. An example of an incorrect link can include the one between “Black Lives Matter” protests and the notion of “overwhelming violence and crime.” This mythical connection has been debunked, as research from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project highlights that over 93% of protests connected with Black Lives Matter have been “nonviolent.”
Another myth worth debunking is the one that equates racial sensitivity trainings with radicalization.
“We have to go back to the core values of this country. They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it's a racist place, and they were teaching people to hate our country. And I'm not going to allow that to happen.”
When we think back to the core values of this country, are we thinking back to 1788 when we adopted the United States Constitution while slavery was still embedded in the fabric of American society? Are we thinking back to 1862, when the “Twenty Slave Law” permitted certain slaveowners with twenty or more slaves to be “exempted from military service in the armies of the Confederate State”? Are we referring to 1896 when our Supreme Court upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson? Yes, Board v. Brown of Education recognized racial segregation (in public schools) as unconstitutional, but do we recognize that the Supreme Court decided this case in 1954 – 66 years ago?
It is true that in 66 years, the United States has made progress; but we would be remiss if we failed to think about the 166+ years prior to 1954, which point us to ugly, but unfortunately accurate truths, about American history. In thinking about America’s history though, the goal has never been to “teach people to hate our country.” The goal has been to provide context to many of the unrelenting consequences flowing from our history, which still plague our country today.
As we address many of these consequences, particularly in our workplaces, effective racial sensitivity trainings support the mission of fostering environments that promote understanding across cultures. These trainings should seek to build community through the use of shared language, so that employees can work together toward a space in which everyone feels comfortable sharing unique ideas to create solutions, collaborating across differences, and making the work experience psychologically safe for all.
Justice requires that we use all tools available to reduce the potential for bias and discrimination to infect American life. The work necessary to make our society a better place as it relates to race relations must be done in our homes, at our jobs, in our social circles, and beyond. Using racial sensitivity trainings – those not outlawed by the President’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order – are just one of the many ways that we can continue the fight toward greater inclusion in our country.
Kelsea Médard is an attorney and strategic consultant. She founded Grow By Three to promote social justice through professional and organizational development, and much of her work revolves around the creation and implementation of tools to foster greater diversity, equity, or inclusion in our society.
 https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000007365697/presidential-debate-live.html  https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/09/30/presidential-debate-read-full-transcript-first-debate/3587462001/  https://time.com/5886348/report-peaceful-protests/  https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000007365697/presidential-debate-live.html  https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/slavery/timeline/1788.html  https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/the-twenty-negro-law/  https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/163/537  https://www.britannica.com/event/Brown-v-Board-of-Education-of-Topeka Sign-up here for updates from The BGG so you don’t miss the latest posts! You can keep up to date with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram too. Don't forget to listen to our podcasts here. You can donate to support The BGG's production and distribution