Can you talk to your friend about RACE?

Each week on our blog we highlight personal risk stories of our partners, collaborators, and friends that illuminate diverse perspectives of risk-taking. This week, Julia Whitehead, shares her story about the risk of discussing the topic of ‘race’ with personal relations.

Although Julia’s story is her own,  many others have experienced a similar risk when broaching a subject as potentially controversial as race.

Join us on Nov. 1 at IMA for our opening night event where more in-depth conversation on race will take place. Four innovators will compete for a $20K award for a daring idea to reshape notions of race in Central Indiana.

Jeannine Murray & Julia Whitehead

Jeannine Murray & Julia Whitehead

By Julia Whitehead, Executive Director, Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

My friend Jeannine is amazing. She is a working mom with a family that people envy. Her loving husband is a fireman. Her kids are great students, great athletes, and great citizens. She is close with her entire family… distant cousins, aunts, even neighbors of these family members. There is a great amount of love floating around her family… never a fear of loneliness among that crowd.

My friend is a great worker, often sharing stories with me that show her commitment to her work and her respect for other people in her workplace… her ability to speak up when necessary to make sure things work efficiently.

My friend does the right thing. I can always count on her judgment when I need to get her opinion about something in my life. I can always count on her to listen well and to be wise with her advice.

I’ve asked Jeannine for favors, and we have had each other’s backs when it comes to our children’s classroom, soccer practice, chess club, and other activities over the years. And after all of these years of friendship, I have never taken what I consider to be the biggest risk in our friendship… asking about race. Jeannine is black, and I am white. I don’t know how to bring up the topic. I want to know if any of her ancestors were slaves, but I also anticipate feeling a sense of guilt if they were. What do I do with that guilt?

“And after all of these years of friendship, I have never taken what I consider to be the biggest risk in our friendship… asking about race.

I was recently asked to work on a civil rights-related project for the Vonnegut Library by my friend, Dan Wakefield. During our discussion on this, Dan and I both forced back tears as we talked about injustices against African Americans in the past and injustices that still exist today. Race relations and civil rights are a concern now more than ever. When legislators attempt to remove voting rights… when an innocent like Trayvon Martin dies when someone fears his appearance, African Americans and so many others ache with sadness.

I don’t know what conversations my friend Jeannine has had with her kids about being black in America. And the reason I don’t know about these conversations and her experience with racism is because I’ve been too cowardly to raise the topic with her. I have not taken the risk. But now I think it’s time.


3 thoughts on “Can you talk to your friend about RACE?

  1. What is your experience of being white in America in the 21st century, Julia? Have you invited Jeanine to the opening? I think your Truth, your friendship and the important S&P topic are leading you. The night of November 1 is glowing on our calendar! I am so curious about the proposals and just astounded that our city has the courage to open the subject that is a part of every aspect of our lives but is seldom discussed openly. Has there been a headline announcing the contest? A thousand ideas from deseg workshops to Celebration of Hope to Rainbow Connections to UM Religion and Race to all-white ads to kid toys, all converge around this important topic. “RESHAPE THE NOTION OF RACE IN CENTRAL INDIANA?” One proposal! Eagerly awaiting the Super Bowl of Human Relations, coming to our city soon!

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