Dialogue on Race Louisiana is a local nonprofit dedicated to the elimination of racism through education, transformation, and action. The Dialogue is a structured educational process that provides a safe space for people to share their race perceptions and experiences.
I participated in my first dialogue, The Original Series, in 2010 and since then have done the Advanced Series several times and also the Advanced Beyond. In 2012, I became a certified Dialogue on Race facilitator. For me, facilitating a dialogue is not easy.
I recently and for the first time facilitated an Advanced Series dialogue. Something I’ve been thinking about for awhile came up in this dialogue and I believe it’s at the core of why talking about race is so difficult for many of us. Shame.
As I white person I feel shame for things I’ve thought and done about race during my lifetime and shame for things that friends, family, and others have said, done, and continue to do where race is concerned. A cousin still uses the n word; at a gathering of people I knew in high school someone referred to the “black thugs” that currently attend our alma mater; a person I know mentioned having to move out of town because “those people” are taking over. Examples like this are numerous. I am ashamed.
I can’t speak for shame that black people may or may not feel but I can say that when I hear the stories of their experiences I am both shocked and ashamed.
If you have followed me for awhile you know that I regularly invoke the brilliance of Brene Brown whose early work was around shame and whose TED talk brought the conversation about it into the mainstream. Here is some of her thinking on the topic:
“I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.
I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.”
Brown’s book Daring Greatly examines shame and its antidotes which include the idea of wholehearted living or “engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.” Living this way is based in courage, compassion, and connection. A willingness to be vulnerable is the starting point.
My experience is that real dialogue requires us to put ourselves out there and be vulnerable. This is not always easy but it is possible.
I would love to know your experience talking about race and whether you think shame is or is not a factor. Please share in the comments section below.