I was first intrigued by this article because I once had dreams of going to Amy Grant’s alma mater, Vanderbilt University. Then I got to the “biracial factor” at the end and I knew I had to post it. I’m encouraged that this program has garnered such interested and seems to truly be seeking open and HONEST dialogue. “Mandatory honesty.” I like that. I don’t know an institution can mandate honesty, but it’s a great idea! And I think it’s also important to remember that once talking about race was considered racist. I’ve totally been accused.
Prevailing social wisdom says race, politics and religion don’t make for civil conversation.
But this year, for the first time, the Scarritt-Bennett Center had a waiting list of people who want to participate in its multi-week group dialogues on race in America.
The program, dubbed Diversity in Dialogue, is one of two small local groups that meet over a six-week period to foster discussion and understanding of various hot-button topics.
The conversations are led by group facilitators trained by Scarritt-Bennett. They lay out a series of ground rules that include only one person speaking at a time, mandatory honesty, and what’s said in the circle stays in the circle unless specific permission to share is granted.
“Participation tends to go up and go down,” said Diana Holland, the program’s coordinator. But when race is being discussed “in the media or is part of the general national affairs or even seems to be a big local issue, we do see more interest.”
The 2008 election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, has led to many conversations behind closed doors about race, its meaning and its impact, said Tony Brown, a Vanderbilt University sociologist who specializes in social psychology, as well as racial and ethnic relations.
“There was in some circles so much regret that (Obama) was elected and fear about what sort of change this moment represents. Then, there is so much joy,” Brown said.
“I think the fact that both of these emotions were happening in large circles simultaneously just flooded the social system. That conversation couldn’t be held back to private spaces anymore.”
But having honest conversations about race isn’t easy or simple in a country where terms like “post-racial” are being thrown around after a long period in which talking about race was itself considered racist, Brown said.
Jessica Swader is a person who longs for a world where labels — particularly those attached to race — don’t matter. Swader, a biracial 22-year-old Vanderbilt University graduate student with a biracial husband and two children, said she too often finds herself on the receiving end of commentary about how her behavior and choices are “white.”
“I feel really strongly about racism,” she said. “You know my culture, my skin, they don’t define who I am or what I like. I define that.”
Swader says she is hoping to emerge from the six-week, two-hour sessions with a better understanding of the way that people think about biracial individuals — why there is a persistent demand for biracial individuals to identify as one race or another.
Swader says she arrived at the group’s first session last week with the assumption that the group of people who voluntarily came together to discuss race would be almost completely black. Instead she found what she described as a good mix of people younger and older, black and white.
The latest circle formed includes six black participants and eight white.