Friday, July 6, 2018

No one wants to be told that what makes them who they are "doesn't matter"

In her comments on my post last week, my dear Ann—longtime friend, reader, and most frequent and insightful commenter here—made the point that her ambivalence in discussing race is because she feels there is no “right” way to discuss it anymore. She was raised with the belief that color doesn’t matter, that people’s characters and behavior are what we should evaluate their merit on.

While obviously this is true, I’ve given ample evidence that this argument is ahead of its time; there is much work to be done before we can finally table these discussions about our “differences.”

Her personal perspective is as valid as anyone else’s, and is shared by many people. To such people who want to avoid race discussions because they don't know how to have them, I suggest you start by listening. Instead of insisting that the subject matter doesn't need to be discussed, actually listen to people tell you why they feel the need to keep discussing it.

Then, ask questions. Ask them about their experience. Let them know you care about them and their experience instead of telling them that their experience of their cultural frame of reference “don’t matter.”

For black, brown, red, and yellow people, their “race” isn’t just about the colors of their skin; it’s about their cultures, their heritage, their families, their life experiences, and the experiences of their communities both in the past and in the present.

No one wants to be told that where the come from, what they value, the distinctive features of them and their communities, their heritage—basically everything that makes them who they are—“don’t matter.”

Regardless of what your intentions are, what such people hear if you tell them their differences from you “don't matter” is that they don't matter.

I repeat, it does not matter what your intentions are. If you went to a foreign country and gave the thumbs up sign in approval of something, and your host reacted with “Please don’t do that here! I know to you that means approval, but in our culture that gesture is very offensive,” would you just keep on doing it, willfully offending everyone in sight because you know you don't mean any harm and are trying to educate them of that? Of course you wouldn't! You'd say, “Thank you for telling me that. I won't do it again. What hand gesture do you use to indicate approval of something?”

Instead of looking at this as a debate—Arguing that race and cultural differences do or do not matter—we need to look at this as an exchange of experiences and viewpoints.

White people have unlimited forum for telling about our experiences, and we have always availed ourselves of our opportunities to do so. Now, we need to hone our listening skills. If black, brown, red, or yellow people in our midst are insisting they have something they need to say, just listen already!

Otherwise, you’ll have to just keep fighting them on the subject and deepen their suspicion that you are a hypocrite, and that would go against everything that kosen-rufu, the Baha’i New World Order, the Kingdom of God on Earth, or whatever else you want to call it stands for, and amounts to what Buddhists call “slander of the [Mystic] Law.”

Put your money where your mouth is. If your teachings say that you work to promote “unity in diversity,” stop insisting instead on unity in the physiological homogeneity of the human race.

If you say that your ethical code based on your God-centered or your Buddhist faith is to respect the “dignity of life,” prove it. Stop arguing long enough to really listen to the people that your faith community has sworn to protect the rights and the voices of.

You can’t protect those people, their rights, and their voices if you keep silencing them by saying that their concerns about the way their people are treated “don’t matter.”

I realize that even after reading this, some people still might not understand, and might feel affronted by my approach. After this, I’m going to revisit my methods for presenting this subject matter, before I attempt to do so again. Persuasive speaking and debating have never been specialties of mine, so I will return to my specialty of presenting information and viewpoints you may have never encountered before, for you to do with them what you will.

In doing so, I will continue to fulfill my kosen-rufu vow of helping to promote the narratives of individuals and schools of thought that for too long have remained outside the mainstream consciousness.

Image: "Eye of an Enlightened One" by Karla Joy Huber, 1995; chalk pastel


  1. Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful response, Karla. I realize what you are saying and I do feel that everyone deserves to be listened to, to feel free to talk about their experiences and pain and whatever is their human experience whether it is their race, religion or whatever was significant in their life. What makes us who we are DOES matter! And I’m sure there are very significant differences in our lives based on our race. We also have a lot of experiences that are individual to each person that have nothing to do with race. YES we do have lots of differences! But our race does not define us. There is a blurry line between stereotyping and identifying. Lately the rhetoric I hear has a narrow focus that does blame and shame people who are “white” and create an imaginary wall between the races and very likely creates more fear and resentment. Due to this, if I was a black child today, I couldn’t help but feel fear and mistrust for anyone “white.”

    I personally don’t fit into the norm that my race gives me an “unlimited forum” for telling about my experiences, nor that I avail myself these opportunities. I have never fit in to the “norm” nor felt comfortable talking about my personal experiences. But that’s not healthy for anyone. You did help me realize that maybe the same intimidation I feel talking about my past experiences is what the black community feels, as individuals and as a community. And I will definitely pay more attention and listen in the future anytime there is a conversation about race. Again, thank you for welcoming my point of view.

    1. Hello Ann ~ I apologize for the late reply; for some reason I didn't get an email notification like I usually do that I received a comment, and then I posted a reply weeks ago and just noticed it disappeared! I really like your point about "the blurry line between stereotyping and identifying." Our dear friend Joe pointed out that race is still just a social construct at its core. It's always unfortunately been loaded with so much baggage, and has been so heavily weaponized, that it's been given more power over people than it ever should have been. For white people, especially, I agree, it does feel difficult at times because there are people who are conditioned to see anyone pale and whom they perceive as privileged as someone who should be apologetic to them. I do understand that, because I was often put in that box before I learned how to communicate with other types of people, and to try and get past it when I still do encounter that kind of scapegoating by people who don't know me. I too have never had an unlimited forum personally; I've always been a misunderstood outcast, so my point in making that statement was that "white" people in general have unlimited forum for taking for granted and expressing white viewpoints. It was not my intention to diminish the challenges of those of us who have often felt silenced and marginalized in every other way (meaning, anything we want to say personally as individuals and not just parroting any beliefs of the general demographic.) All the feedback I get from my readers of all colors and schools of thought helps me learn to make my points better, especially when someone calls me out when something I've said does seem like a stereotypical statement when I'd do better to be more specific. Thank you again <3