An hour and 25 minutes into the forum, a missing ingredient on what it means to be an American was exposed.
“I think white folks should be up there talking about race and racism,” said an audience member.
Five minutes were left in the Wednesday gathering at the Gem Theater. The program spun off of a series of online documentaries, “Your Fellow Americans,” a project of KCPT.
Efforts to bridge understanding between people and cultures can’t just feature those who consistently are viewed as the other: the minorities, the foreigners. You have to include the people who are often accused of doing the judging and, too often, the stereotyping.
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To be fair, the filmmakers (who, many noted, were both white men) didn’t set out to solve race relations in the Kansas City area. Not Wednesday evening. And not by their thoughtful project of interviews with local families of different backgrounds. Instead, they gathered panelists to simply offer commentary on their work.
There was Kansas City’s African-American mayor asserting that “white folks do not have to deal with race.”
And a doctor born in Pakistan who lives in Leawood telling how a job offer was abruptly rescinded after a hiring executive discovered she wears a hijab, a head covering inspired by her Muslim faith.
And a Latina executive in Kansas City, Kan., saying she knows people define her by her accented English.
Candid comments abounded. But the speakers knew the audience could relate to their experiences. The diversity in the seats made that obvious.
And therein lies evidence of the point that Mayor Sly James pressed. It’s not enough to work with someone of a different race, nationality or religion. You need to connect at a deeper level to have the serious conversations.
That’s why panels are best at offering insights, snippets to be explored further. It’s also why flamethrowers shouldn’t be given a spotlight. The sort of people who claim they want to present a differing view only when they know darn well they are being offensive. Equally problematic is how social media gets used to pouncing whenever someone phrases something awkwardly or chooses wording that, with the luxury of time, they would self-edit.
James noted that he hopes Kansas Citians have more opportunities for conversations on race free of “embarrassment, repercussions and reprisals.” The “Americans” series offers a solid jumping-off point.