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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The missing piece of #RaceTogether

There's this crazy idea... I actually got it from Jesus: it's called Relationships.

It means investing in people, making sure they know you care about them no matter what before making any kind of commentary on their life choices, before talking with them about important, difficult, or controversial issues. (interesting side note: once you actually do care about someone, you may be surprised to find that you no longer feel a desire to comment on their life choices)

And it can look like this: I have a friend I can call when I need someone to tell me the truth. I hope y'all all have this friend. Mine's name is Amber. I call Amber after an argument with my husband and instead of joining me in husband-bashing she tells me, "Yeah, you definitely need to apologize."  Or I can call her after a mom-fail and Amber will acknowledge, "Yup. Total mom-fail. It sucks, doesn't it?"  Yet I never feel beat-down after talking with her. You know why? We've been friends a long time. I know she loves me. She has helped me out with my kids, has listened to me cry when I was losing my dad. She has put in the hard work. She earned the place in my life to tell me hard things, the things I don't always want to hear.  We don't have to agree all the time (and often we don't, especially about the controversial, difficult topics) but she can tell me hard things because we've earned the right to speak truth into each other's lives. We have a real relationship.

This week, Starbucks launched an interesting campaign, encouraging their Baristas to talk about race issues with customers and write #RaceTogether on coffee cups. I applaud them as a company for being willing to go there, for trying to be part of starting some hard conversations.  But here's what's missing from that equation: relationships. I don't know my Starbucks Baristas and the role they play in my life doesn't fall into that inner-circle of people with whom I can wrestle with the hard issues.

But this raises a good point: who are those folks for you? If not with your Barista, who can you have the hard conversations about race with? And... most importantly.... do those people all look like you? If the only people with whom I can have conversations about race are all white, there's a problem.

I wasn't planning on writing about this yet, but now feels like the time to share my latest "crazy idea" (I have some friends who probably cringe every time I send them an email with this in the subject line). I've just started meeting with a group to talk intentionally about race. We are a group of women of different races, different faiths, different backgrounds. And we meet once a month for two purposes: 1. to build relationships, 2. to talk about race issues.  No hidden agenda - just a place where we can come and talk honestly and openly about our experiences with race and invest in each other's lives.

You know why? Because talking about race outside of relationships tends to be counter-productive. Talking about any controversial or difficult subject outside of relationships doesn't quite help as much. It's like that old adage "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Who could you #RaceTogether with? Is it time to reach out? Maybe not to ask a stranger weird, intrusive questions about race... but to build a relationship?  Is your circle all the same color? Or the same faith? Imagine if it were different? You can change that!  Invite someone to coffee or a meal. Invest in a relationship.

And this can be awkward. I get it. Let me tell you - it was humbling to ask some of my acquaintances to be part of my Women's Group. I had to approach some women that I don't know all that well and say, "I'm doing this thing... and I don't know much about your culture but I really would like to. Would you be interested in coming?"  It was scary and I feared being misunderstood, or mocked, or just outright rejected.  But guess what? I wasn't. So far, no one has called me an idiot. At least not to my face.

We can do hard things. Relationships are hard. If you are married, you already know this. But they are also worth the investment.  It's hard to reach out and start a relationship with someone different from you. Harder even than asking a stranger random questions about race.  But when we invest in each other, we earn the privilege to have those conversations about hard things. And when we invest in people who are different from us, be it race, faith, socio-economic status, we grow. Usually into better humans. We understand more when we can learn to see life through our friends' eyes.

So thank you, Starbucks, for the willingness to try to start the hard conversations. It may be easy to mock (oh Twitter...) but I think we can still learn something important here and this could spark something good.

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