Response to “Roundtable faces scrutiny over inclusivity,” The Signal article, May 15.
I don’t personally know the man who resigned from the Human Relations Roundtable due to feeling offended and excluded, but I have friends and family members like him. These men are generally kind, hardworking people who grew up in an era where racism and sexism were things radicals (not average citizens) talked about. They often take conversations about racism and sexism within the U.S. as a direct attack on them and not as what it really is: a critique on our history and an attempt to make things better.
Does racism exist in the Santa Clarita Valley and America? Yes, of course it does; sometimes in subtle ways that we don’t even notice. That’s nothing to be defensive or scared about – it’s just the sad reality of human nature. Just two years ago I heard a long-time SCV resident say that he sympathized with a white supremacist who shot up a mosque and killed worshipers there. Sadly but not surprisingly, none of his friends in earshot replied or shut him down. This is evidence of racism and white supremacy present in our beloved valley. If some people are willing to say things like that in public, we can only guess what others say in private.
Naturally, I don’t know the tone of the meetings or the people in the roundtable. I would dearly hope that they are doing everything they can to be patient and inclusive, and to communicate not that every white person is racist, but that racism is a fact of society and we need to work together to recognize and eliminate it. As an adjunct professor who knows firsthand how to guide constructive conversations where students look for common ground instead of attack each other, I know that it takes a very special group of people to facilitate open-minded dialogue. It’s possible that this man was directly told that he is the problem, which is not the direction a group like this should take.
There are reasons for tension on both sides, and we should be mindful of that. As someone raised in a faithful Christian household, I understand the sting of feeling like an outsider or being misunderstood. But I completely understand the reluctance of people to work with loud-and-proud Christians. At their worst, Christians have burned witches and slaughtered natives. In modern times, some Christians are full of venom and righteous pride against people and beliefs that differ from theirs. If the man had entered that council and said, “I’m a faithful Christian but I believe that God loves all people, including LGBTQ people and people of color, and even the racist who needs to change their ways,” they likely would have been met with acceptance, not skepticism.
Though it may feel restrictive and uncomfortable to be “silent, listen, and learn” about racial bias, racism, or violence and disgust against people in the LGBTQ community, these are conversations we need to respect and hold space for. We should try to realize and admit that all humans have some biases, be it about class, gender, or race, and this doesn’t make us bad or wholly responsible; it just makes us human. It’s easy to blame people or be defensive, which is why I employ an activity in my classes called “play the believing game.” Without looking to assert your opinions or counter-arguments, try to understand and appreciate the beliefs of the person who has been affected by white privilege, who becomes transgender because they felt disgusted by their own body their entire life, or the person who has felt like an outsider for being a Christian.
It’s no easy task, but playing the believing game is a way to improve our relationships and benefit our community and the lives of our neighbors.