Why did you choose to take the assessments that you did?
I took the Race IAT and the Skin Tone IAT because race is of paramount interest to me right now. In truth, the issue of race has played a major role in my life since I was a child growing up amidst acute racial tension in 1970s Baltimore City.
When we first moved to Baltimore from Springfield, Ohio, our realtor, who lived up the street from the house we bought, told my parents that she would never show houses in our neighborhood to black families. Indeed, our neighborhood, Hunting Ridge, was a network of six or seven winding leafy streets bordering Leakin Park with houses exclusively populated by white families. On our east border was the predominately black neighborhood of Edmonson Village and on our west was an integrated neighborhood of row homes. Many white families were moving to the suburbs and our realtor was desperately trying to preserve what she considered “her” neighborhood. This attitude about race came as a shock to my family who had not experienced this type of racial tension in Ohio. Baltimore at the time was a whole new ball game.
My neighborhood elementary school was the beneficiary of students who were bused from poor inner-city neighborhoods. As a result, I grew up surrounded by black, white, and brown friends, many of whom I’m still in touch with. But my experiences with the issue of race were varied. In junior high I was one of maybe 200 white students in my 1,800-person junior high school and I stood out because of my race. In sixth grade a group of boys followed me home from school and punched my jaw because they mistakenly thought I used a racial slur toward them. My best friend was a black boy named David who played chess with me every day at lunch in the cafeteria and we visited each other’s houses. I hid in the music practice room with my white friend Anne Marie on the days when we heard a race riot was planned for after school. There were days walking home from school when we were pelted with rocks and on one occasion my friend was shot in the arm by a kid who leaned out of a passing bus window.
For most of my life I was filled with a slurry of thoughts and emotions regarding race – fear, guilt, admiration, love, hope, shame, and anger – but it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I started to deal with my inner turmoil. I had moved out of the city with my first marriage and because my kids were part of a community that was almost exclusively, startlingly white, it became very important to me that they have exposure to people outside of our suburban white “bubble.” But did I practice what I preached?
What if anything surprised, confused, encouraged, or disappointed you about the results of your assessment?
I wasn’t surprised then that when the first time I took the Race IAT my results showed a “slight preference for White people over Black people,” and that the second time I took the Race IAT my results showed a “slight preference to Black people over White people.” That describes exactly how I feel at different times. I also took the Skin Tone IAT, which showed that I had no preference for dark skin or light skin. The first Race IAT result is probably closer to true, as I still find pockets of bias within myself that I am working to excavate.
I was in my 40s before I really empathized at a deeply emotional level with the experience of a black mother. Prior to this day in College Park, I had the luxury of not understanding the experience of a mother sending her black son off to college. I sat there in the orientation workshop worried about my white son being a victim of crime or crossing Route 1 (a road adjacent to University of Maryland notorious for car versus pedestrian accidents). Would he be able to find a police officer to help him when needed? And the mom next to me was worried about all that I was plus worried that her son would encounter a police officer. My god, what it must be like to parent a black son.
Looking back at your origin story, can you see connections between “I am” statements and your results?
Three “I am” statements stand out in my origin story as being related to my results:
The third “I am” statement influences the lens through which I see the world. It is the reason I have had the luxury of not deeply considering the experience of racial minorities in America. In my early 20s, I got married and moved to a wooded white suburb in northern Maryland where I still live. Things are slowly changing, but my community is still not well-integrated. Until I opened an office for my business in Baltimore City, my exposure to people of color outside of my few black friends and co-workers was infrequent and my racial biases remained unchallenged.
Fortunately for the development of my soul, my first and second “I am” statements press me to step out of my bubble, explore my biases, and perhaps work to make the world a better place for people who’ve been hurt by racial bias. Considering myself a work in progress creates a mandate for growth. I am deeply distressed by how I see people of color treated in our country. I can no longer stay on the sidelines of this issue. Lastly, I consider myself open-hearted. I am willing to be challenged. I care deeply about people and my community and am willing to alter my attitudes and behavior to bring about positive change.
Author Derald Wing Sue articulates my feelings exactly. “How is it possible to allow situations of oppression and injustice to continue without taking personal responsibility to end them?” (Sue, 2015).
My mother still lives in the neighborhood I grew up in in Baltimore City. In my view, it is a model of racial integration – neighbors live, socialize, and worship together, and know each other intimately. My mom’s close friend and former next-door neighbor is Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Only in a unique, integrated neighborhood could a white 90-year old woman born on a farm in Indiana and the nation’s most prominent civil rights lawyer eat at each other’s dining room tables on a weekly basis.
What other reflections come to mind for you?
The Trump Administration brought many issues of race to the forefront. I have many white conservative friends. Some of these friends saw nothing wrong with the way the Trump administration handled issues of race and justice. My liberal friends asked me how I could be friends with them still. I guess I love them. But I don’t understand them. How can my white 50-year old friend Jack who has built a great deal of wealth during his career not see that he benefits in our society from being white and male? How can my white neighbor Gary talk disparagingly about poor people in Baltimore?
I have many conversations with these friends. I want them to understand where I’m coming from on the issue of race. They care enough about me to listen, but I don’t know whether I’m having any impact. It really is up to each individual white person to wrestle with their own sense of entitlement, guilt, fear, and shame.
Through these conversations, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are ten phases of wrestling with “whiteness.” I suppose that these are also the steps our country needs to go through to reckon with its racial injustices. These are like the 12 Steps of AA – they build on each other and are consecutive:
10 Steps to Racial Awareness for White People
Sue, D. W. (2016). The Characteristics and Dynamics of Race Talk. In Race talk and the conspiracy of silence: Understanding and facilitating difficult dialogues on race (pp. 18-34). John Wiley & Sons.