Yael T. Abouhalkah

Forget a ‘national conversation’ on race. Try local instead

Lots of well-meaning people are saying America needs a “national conversation” on race after the divisive Trayvon Martin verdict.

No, we don’t.

We need

local conversations

on race — at home, at work, at church, at local volunteer groups, at anywhere else we meet daily with others in our communities.

That’s the best way for people to talk honestly about how they feel, without sound bites, without feigning concern one way or the other so we don’t hurt people’s feelings.

It’s a way to avoid the easy way out, without having to go to the despicable message boards found on media outlets these days, the ones where people on all sides of racial issues hurl bigoted insults at each other.

Local conversations on race also are the best way for breakthroughs to occur.

It’s where prejudices — against black people and other minorities but also against white people — will be put on display but also can be dealt with in a face-to-face manner.

Will this be tough? You bet.

It’s probably a good way to stir up passionate feelings and debates among people who think they share all the same values, yet just might not in reality unless they can talk to each other with honesty.

Meanwhile, a “national conversation” has all the potential in the world to be driven by elected officials — including President Barack Obama — who bring with them all the baggage of their offices. Are they talking about race to get re-elected? To show their constituents that they “get it” but don’t really have much else when it comes to solutions?

The politicians certainly have a good reason to be involved in the discussions, because they can pass new laws that might help reduce some of the racially based problems that face minorities these days and were put on full display in the Martin/George Zimmerman case.

They don’t, however, need to be the leaders of these discussions.

So who seems to be supporting local conversations on race?

Obama, for one.

His personal comments last Friday on racial relations in the United States automatically were greeted as most people would expect: With words of praise from his political supporters and liberals, and with derision from many political opponents and racists.


USA Today’s coverage


Obama “questioned whether a full-blown ‘national conversation’ would do much good if too many politicians or pundits were involved.”

“On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?’ Obama said.”

Excellent points, and a good way for Americans to start thinking about taking on their own local conversations about race.