Complex Conversations on Race and Racism
The Summer Peace Summit is gradually turning into a traditional meeting of women leaders from all over the world. This year, the event took place in online format. However, it has not lost its soul, and has not become less productive. One of the most difficult but important topics of the summit was devoted to the issues of race and racism. Joynicole Martinez, American expert, journalist, and activist, shared her opinion on how to solve the problem and how to properly discuss such complex and pressing issues in society.
epidemiologist, journalist, executive coach, mother with a large family
Racism is complex and often an unpleasant conversation but it is necessary to talk about it, believes Joynicole Martinez. Though she has repeatedly faced situations when others were biased against her or her family members, race has never been a barrier to communication between Ms. Martinez and her friends.
“It is wonderful when two persons can discuss their concerns, exchange their opinions and share experiences without building barriers between one other”, emphasized the speaker.
The colour of the skin is one of the most obvious external characteristics of a person. It is the first thing that people notice when they see someone in person, in a photo, or on a TV screen. It is possible to ignore a person’s color consciously or unconsciously. However, that won’t help in addressing the existing problem.
To ignore the color of skin requires ignoring the problems that occur because of those color differences. Joynicole Martinez believes that it is important that people see the differences of different races and consciously take an anti-racist position knowing that each person is valuable and one-of-a-kind.
“Racism and hatred are not innate. These feelings are taught, we aren’t born with them. My personal belief in this ideal is challenged when people who are filled with acrid bitterness toward one another behave so poorly. It makes me question whether or not we don’t truly have a natural inclination to only love things that are familiar to us. Summits and forums like this one help restore and push forward the truth that we do not have to embrace our own likeness, but can embrace all of humanity”, started Joynicole Martinez sharing her personal ideas with the listeners.
According to the expert, the very notion of racism can be defined in several ways. For example, it means prejudicial discrimination or hostility against people on the basis of their belonging to a particular racial or ethnic group. Racism can also be understood as a person’s belief that the possession of some characteristics makes some members of society inferior or superior. In any case, it is a complex conversation. Discussing this topic often results in bitterness, anger, frustration, fear of condemnation, or fear of being misunderstood.
At the same time, sincere and open discussions of racism are crucial. They help people establish effective communication based on mutual understanding, empathy, and willingness to address the existing problem.
Open talk is the first step towards identifying problems and working out ideas to address them. Racism is an injustice that creates great obstacles that prevent children, women, whole families, or even nations from moving forward freely. Like any injustice, it has destructive nature and therefore just needs to be addressed.
“There is racism, which is part of individual thinking. But there is a bigger problem: systemic racism and discrimination on other various grounds are still prevalent in the world”, emphasizes Joynicole Martinez. Many people influenced by stereotypes or their own beliefs used to look at others and focus primarily on their skin color, gender, social class. Only after that they notice their mental qualities and abilities. Such an approach fosters segregation in separate areas, cities, countries, and the world in general.
“Where there is no love, there can be no peace. There can be no peace where people have to fight for justice. Racism is the absence of love.”
“Formation of an equal society begins with ourselves. To learn to make an objective choice and to adhere to the views oriented to justice in all aspects of our lives: that is our task”, believes the expert.
Racism can manifest itself in the form of hidden bias as well as outright contempt. It is impossible to oppose them by simply convincing people that they have chosen the wrong position. Numerous events dedicated to diversity can’t bring much use too. They often only reinforce the contrast by emphasizing the differences between people.
According to Joynicole Martinez, to eradicate racism, it was necessary to promote an anti-racism attitude at different levels including individual, interpersonal, and institutional ones. At the same time, racism should not be erased from history. It is the desire to whitewash the past that dooms us to repeat it.
“So we do not repeat the mistakes of our past, how do we enter into these candid conversations? Bring your whole and best self.”
Develop self-knowledge and come to a true knowledge of yourself. Self-knowledge allows every person to think more about what he or she says and does, to ensure that he or she doesn’t hurt or cause conflict in somebody. Self aware people can embrace their contradictions and inconsistencies. That helps prevent them from projecting their negative aspects onto other people.
“When you practice self-knowledge, you become a better version of yourself. You begin to understand your feelings better, clearly define your life principles and positions, and become more open by accepting the knowledge, experience, and perspectives of others.”
It is important for a person to be sincere with himself or herself and recognize that he or she is not free of stereotyped thinking. According to the expert, that’s a difficult but necessary process to answer to your own question if you are a racist or not.
Be an active listener. Active listening involves paying full and careful attention to the other person. Ms. Martinez recommends avoiding interruptions. Reflecting your understanding, clarifying information, and delicacy in sharing your own opinion are necessary to be an active listener.
“Listen to understand before you are understood.”
An active listener is an open and sincere person receptive to his or her interlocutor’s words. The main principle of effective communication is: listen to the words of the speaker for understanding, not just to determine whether the speaker is right or wrong.
Speak your truth. Courage and a willingness to take risks are necessary to be sincere when talking about race. It means that a person should be absolutely honest and candid about his or her thoughts and feelings. One should be ready to take the responsibility for one’s words. Discussions where all people say what others want to hear bring no use.
‘Lean in’ to discomfort. Sometimes it is necessary to discard many habitual or stereotyped ideas that people may be holding onto in order to move forward. At some moments, people can experience embarrassment, confusion, anxiety, or even fear. However, it will be much easier for them to communicate with people around them over time, even when touching upon most complex topics.
Enable empathy and compassion. Empathy and compassion allow you to understand the other person’s point of view. At such moments, the conversation becomes more sincere and open. A person’s ability to feel empathy helps him or her win people’s favour and attract them to important problems and topics.
“Expect and accept that there may not be closure. It is not likely that you will resolve your personal understanding about race or another person’s racial experience in a single conversation. The more you talk about race with another person, the more you learn and the more they will learn. Authentic and productive conversations about race are continuous and always evolving.”
Antiracism is a conscious choice of every person. It requires ongoing self-awareness and personal development through life. “In the absence of making antiracist choices, we consciously or unconsciously adhere to racist ideas”, said Joynicole Martinez. The expert emphasized that the Peace 50 community established within the Summer Peace Summit in 2019 has become an important part of her life. This circle of like-minders helps Ms. Martinez feel comfortable and safe, loved and accepted. She can fulfil her potential knowing that her opinion is appreciated and respected. All those are main principles of antiracism.
Viktoria Yezhova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov