I'LL BE AT READING TERMINAL Wednesday night speaking at the fourth annual Racial Beer Summit. The event, sponsored by the MLK365 program of Global Citizen, is designed to promote race relations through open and honest dialogue.
Although the event may seem gimmicky — it plays on the original White House Beer Summit held by President Obama in the aftermath of the 2009 controversy between Henry Louis Gates and the police — it is still a necessary part of our effort to make the world more fair and just.
Why? Because race continues to matter now more than ever.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that the world hasn't improved on the racial front over the last 100 years. The fact that we have a black president, an expanded black middle class, and the ability to walk the streets without fear of lynching (Trayvon Martin notwithstanding) are all testimonies to our growth as a country. Still, race continues to influence our lives in critical ways.
Although people aren't being bitten by dogs or prevented from accessing lunch counters, our country continues to distribute disproportionate outcomes based on people's racial makeup. Black Americans continue to die more at birth and live shorter lives. Between those two extremes, they work harder for less money, pay higher interest rates and have lower lifetime incomes than their peers of other races. Within the criminal-justice system, blacks are more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted and executed for crimes than any other racial group. They are also more likely to be wrongfully punished than anyone else. Black students, even middle-class ones, are overrepresented in suspensions and expulsions, and underrepresented among graduation rates. Black people continue to be subjected to hate crimes, random violence and police terrorism more than any other race. In addition, black-on-black violence continues to be a major issue within urban America.
Yes, despite what many people would have you believe, race is still destiny.
And that's precisely why we must have racial dialogue.
Through racial dialogue, we finally can come to terms with the fact that race does still matter. Rather than looking for colorblindness, a dysfunctional liberal ideology that aspires to ignore rather than embrace the realities of race, racial dialogue acknowledges that we are different. Racial dialogue puts a spotlight on the truth of our collective condition and aims to improve it. With racial dialogue, we no longer pretend that racial difference doesn't exist. We simply try to create a world where being different is no longer a social demerit.
By racial dialogue, I'm not talking about gripe sessions or accusatory interactions. Rather, I'm talking about healthy spaces in which people can openly and honestly share their racial truths. Within these spaces, people of all races can express their hurt, pain, anxiety and anger without being dismissed or derided for their perspective. Everyone will be forced to listen carefully rather than glibly dismiss the other person as a "complainer" or a "racist." At the same time, these conversations demand that we accept the fact that some of us actually may be complainers and racists.
I hope to model this kind of dialogue Wednesday evening by convening an open and honest conversation on the racial state of our city. From our broken schools to the shameful voter-ID laws, we must focus on the ways that issues of race affect how we navigate our civic lives. It won't be pretty and it won't be easy. But, if we enter the dialogue with sincerity and commitment, we just might make our world a little better.
Plus, we get free beer.