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THE BIGGEST PROBLEM with That ‘Conversation On Race’ … It Doesn’t Stop

A person’s skin pigmentation determines his character, behavior, and views.

Stupid statement, right? Not even logical. But if I were to say this in a big, public venue – me in all my whiteness — many would call me racist, and for good reason.

I believe 99.99% of Americans don’t care about a person’s skin color, and they hold the view that only actions matter. The problem is people like Hillary Clinton (we’re all implicitly biased), Eric Holder, Barack Obama, and others keep saying we need to have a conversation on race.

Add TED Talker Mellody Hobson to this list:

The subject of race can be very touchy. As finance executive Mellody Hobson says, it’s a “conversational third rail.” But, she says, that’s exactly why we need to start talking about it. In this engaging, persuasive talk, Hobson makes the case that speaking openly about race — and particularly about diversity in hiring — makes for better businesses and a better society.

If you listened to Ms. Hobson’s story, you can bet her mother encountered racism growing up, which is a bad thing, but then made that bad thing worse by indoctrinating her daughter into thinking every white person would treat her exactly like she was treated. How can this be, since Hobson is the president of Ariel Investments? I can’t help but conclude that her mother is racist, and to an extent so is she, since they seem to ascribe one person’s behavior to all people of the same color. Isn’t that how we define this problem?

Hobson rolls out the typical line of “it’s scary to talk about race, but we have to do it.”

Now, race is one of those topics in America that makes people extraordinarily uncomfortable. You bring it up at a dinner party or in a workplace environment, it is literally the conversational equivalent of touching the third rail. There is shock, followed by a long silence. And even coming here today, I told some friends and colleagues that I planned to talk about race, and they warned me, they told me, don’t do it, that there’d be huge risks in me talking about this topic, that people might think I’m a militant black woman and I would ruin my career. And I have to tell you, I actually for a moment was a bit afraid. Then I realized, the first step to solving any problem is to not hide from it, and the first step to any form of action is awareness. And so I decided to actually talk about race. And I decided that if I came here and shared with you some of my experiences, that maybe we could all be a little less anxious and a little more bold in our conversations about race.

Ms. Hobson, why were you afraid? No one is challenged to any serious degree when they bring up race. When the topic is mentioned, it’s not shock we’re feeling. It’s more like cynicism since when too many cry wolf, we compromise our ability to respond when the wolf finally shows up. And that silence you hear is actually most of us trying to figure out why, in the most color-blind society, we have to be beaten over the head with skin color. We’re tired of it.

My question to Hobson and all race-centric people: If I, as a white person, gave the same speech, and I challenged my audience to be “color brave,” would I be racist? If yes, so are you.

photo credit: majkiki BlackLivesMatter Protest (No Justice = No Peace) – 167 via photopin (license)

Share if you agree the American discussion on race never seems to end.

Michael Cummings

Michael A. Cummings has a Bachelors in Business Management from St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, and a Masters in Rhetoric & Composition from Northern Arizona University. He has worked as a department store Loss Prevention Officer, bank auditor, textbook store manager, Chinese food delivery man, and technology salesman. Cummings wrote position pieces for the 2010 Trevor Drown for US Senate (AR) and 2012 Joe Coors for Congress (CO) campaigns.