How we can begin a conversation on race | Duke Kunshan University

How we can begin a conversation on race

Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

By Momoko Mandere
Society of Black Global Scholars

There is no easy way to begin a conversation on race.

That fact has rarely been more apparent than after the recent events of racial discrimination and violence in the United States, specifically the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. These are tense times.

However, we, the Society of Black Global Scholars, feel it’s important to hold conversations on race, specifically the Black Lives Matters protests, and to look at how we as individuals can discuss and celebrate diversity.

Since its formation in 2018, our society has focused on cross-cultural education relating to Black identities and culture. We are a group that provides a safe space for Black students to express themselves, learn from one another, build networks, and prepare for life after university. By sharing cultural artifacts and raising important discussions about race and diversity politics, we hope to contribute to building an inclusive DKU community.

With that in mind, we’d like to reflect on Black Lives Matter, the movement that frames the fight against injustice and the discrimination faced by the Black community, and the “all lives matter” rhetoric some people use in response.

You might wonder what the difference is when someone says Black Lives Matter or “all lives matter.” After all, doesn’t “all lives matter” include Black people? Unfortunately, it does not. Rather, “all lives matter” is a throwaway response used to diminish the efforts and outcry of the Black community. It denies the reality that Black lives are systematically affected by institutional policy, marketing, economic disenfranchisement, educational inequality, and the criminal justice system, not only in the U.S. but around the world.

Saying “all lives matter” in the context of Black Lives Matter is to imply that the discrimination faced by Black people is not unique, that the repeated acts of targeted violence by police in the U.S. and other nations, such as the murder of George Floyd, are not a direct result of a particular kind of racism and bias. Recent events show that it is.

Saying that “Black lives matter” does not mean other lives do not. What it means is that, in terms of this specific type of racial violence, the Black community is in need of our support. Yes, all lives are important, but not all lives are targets.

Talking about race and diversity is important, as these conversations reflect the world we live in. The history of globalization, from the triumphs of immigrants to the brutal colonization of native populations, has shaped our world and the communities in which we live. Discussing diversity is a gateway to understanding. In addition, when we share the parts of our culture and experiences that are important to us, and invite other people to share their experiences and cultures, we open up space for people to empathize, celebrate and mourn over the good and difficult parts of our shared history.

So how can classmates and colleagues approach conversations on race?

There are two main things to keep in mind. First is that it’s normal to feel awkward. There really is no easy way to approach a conversation on race. When it comes to talking about discrimination, there is often fear that, while well intentioned, we will do or say the wrong thing. It’s normal to make mistakes when trying to contribute to a kinder, fairer community – there is no manual on how to “do the right thing.” Acknowledge the awkward, and then push past it to allow yourself to actively listen and engage.

Second, we must remember that we come into every conversation with privileges and biases that affect our perception of contemporary and historical events. Pausing to examine and reflect on our privileges and biases is an important practice that we must engage in before, during and after our conversations.

The Society of Black Global Scholars is a young organization, but we are determined to be part of the collective effort to grow and develop the DKU community, and beyond.

There are many actions that we, individually and collectively, can take to advocate for equity and justice in our societies. In the face of injustice, speak out, and provide platforms for those whose voices have been silenced. Read books by authors of color and strive to learn more about the histories and present lives of marginalized communities. Support works made by creators of color, and critically examine what kind of narratives the media you consume push. Attend events organized by DKU student organizations that are different from how you identify, and engage with their programming to learn more about their experiences and reality.

Advocacy takes strength but also kindness and sincerity. Now more than ever is a time for compassion.

Momoko Mandere is secretary of the Society of Black Global Scholars, a recognized DKU student organization.