CONVERSATIONS ABOUT RACE
A group of concerned citizens opened conversations about race in Queen Anne’s County on Sunday night, June 26. About 60 county citizens sat together at tables of six to eight where African Americans and European Americans shared family-style discussions over a home-cooked supper. Everyone talked about what race meant personally in their life experiences.
The evening arose through the work of the Multicultural Proficiency Subcommittee of the Queen Anne’s County Local Management Board, which is responsible for programs that uplift the lives of children and their families in our community. June 26 marked the first of what is planned to be monthly Sunday Suppers to Talk about Race.
Ironically, this important step took place just days before the horrific events in Dallas, St. Paul, and Baton Rouge unfolded. National experience with the racial divide has been festering since the 1960s when President Johnson facilitated legislation that squarely addressed civil rights. The lack of intercultural competence we continue to experience today in 2016 mirrors the civil unrest of the ‘60s.
Over the past few decades, conversations about race in Queen Anne’s County have not been loud enough for most of us to hear. Given that the large majority of Queen Anne’s County citizens are European Americans, racial disparity has not been in most people’s line of sight. Typically, being “White” has meant being omitted from conversations about racism. The Queen Anne’s County Sunday Suppers will help amplify the value of such conversations.
At the close of the June evening, we were invited to share insights from our table conversations about race. One woman volunteered that she had never thought about what it meant to be a white person in the community. She elaborated that this was in stark contrast to her newfound awareness of how “being black” was integral to the everyday thinking of African Americans about themselves and the actions they chose to take.
This woman’s experience demonstrates what is often commonly assumed without conscious thought, that is, that being an American is being white. Why else do we say African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, but do not bother to say Euro American?
I, too, am guilty of perpetuating this sociocultural perspective. When I wrote my doctoral dissertation on multicultural teaching practices, two academicians advised me to use Euro American, rather than white in my writing. I argued that the overwhelming majority of research continued to use the term white as a means of clearly identifying ways of distinct thinking about differences in race and culture. In retrospect, this argument is valid only if readers recognize white power with its inherent privileges and assumptions.
So why has it been hard for us to have conversations about race? Current demographic data should help us to talk freely. According to the U.S. 2010 Census, Maryland already has a population with a 53 percent majority defined by what were once called minority groups (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). This same census projected the minority population would be the majority nationwide by 2042. The data does not appear to have helped us because these statistics do not describe the make-up of our county with its African American population of only 7 percent.
Violence across our nation over the past few weeks has stimulated more conversations about race nationwide. June’s Queen Anne’s County Sunday Supper stimulated us to acknowledge that here in Queen Anne’s County we live in a White culture. Now we need to act on that knowledge to appreciate values, beliefs, and world views that differ from our own. They call on us to go beyond our conversations and act on correcting inequities that exist in the fabric of our own community.
This is the first of several columns on “Conversations About Race” by Dr. Mary Wilson Leventhal, who has taught in Queen Anne’s County since 2001. Her early teaching experience began in Philadelphia inner city schools in the late 1960s at a time when conversations about race were leading headlines. Motivated by her teaching experiences, she authored “Intercultural Awareness in Rural Title 1 Elementary School Teaching Practices” (2012). Having devoted more than 40 years to education, Leventhal has served as a teacher, administrator, parent volunteer, community advocate and school board member. She has worked in public, private and international schools and universities. She has a Doctorate of Education in Teacher Leadership from Walden University, an M.B.A. from the University of Hong Kong, and a B.Sc. in Elementary Education, summa cum laude, from Temple University.
DR. MARY WILSON LEVENTHAL