Last night I had the privilege of sharing an excerpt of The R Word (my young adult novel) with a group of young people. I'm excited that the novel is almost ready for print, and will be available on Amazon soon. If you're interested, check out the free excerpt, along with opportunity to purchase a PDF version of the text for a discounted rate, at www.morningjoymedia.com/pages/the_r_word.html.
Anyway, they seemed to like the story, which was great. But what I found most interesting was their response to my questions, "What's the racial atmosphere like at your school? Do people mix much? Is there tension?" While they admitted that there's not a lot of mixing going on, they were adamant in their assurances that it had nothing to do with race. It's culture, they said. It's learning styles. It's living styles. It's interests. It's where you come from. The racial self-segregation that they experience every day has nothing to do with race, they explained.
Now, this was a very open group -- they came to the session voluntarily, knowing that we'd be talking about race. Even, so, it was hard for them to admit that race plays a part in their every day lives. They wanted to be colorblind. And, their experience is born out by research -- just plopping kids of various racial backgrounds together does not guarantee integration, because they will tend to self-segregate along racial lines. (This group, by the way, was all white, proving the point about self-segregation). So what's the answer, and why should we care?
I'm not claiming to have all the answers, but I believe that interactions like the one we had last night are important because they get us thinking thoughts that aren't so comfortable to think. We need to keep the conversation going. Are we better off as a nation than we were a few decades ago? Of course. Are we "post racial"? The more we talked last night, the more these young people admitted that, well, come to think of it, they have heard the "N-word" used by whites at their school, and not in a very nice way, they said (is there a nice way to use that word? I wondered, but I didn't get the chance to ask.) There was that time, one person shared, when he was at the supermarket with an African American friend and the friend was accused of stealing, but nobody even looked at him. And they do feel uncomfortable sometimes with certain students of color. "It's like there's a wall," one person admitted.
The R Word is the story of how, for one white teenager, that wall comes down. It's my attempt to keep the conversation going.