An Introduction to the TalkingRace Project From Mark O'Mara
An honest discussion about race is difficult to have in America, because race is still taboo.
At least, the fear that a misstep might be interpreted as racist inhibits many of us from having a conversation. Most would agree that racism is the deep wound that has marred our nation since before its conception. While we have made great strides since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, we have a long way to go before we reconcile the gap that exists in racial equality.
An honest discussion about race, therefore, is a critical first step in identifying and resolving the issues that prevent us from finally closing the racial equality gap.
Because of our role in the legal defense of George Zimmerman, many people felt comfortable telling us, quite candidly, how they felt about race.
From this anecdotal experience, we started to understand that whites and blacks (and other minorities), in general, look at the race problem completely differently -- and we discovered that people’s feelings about race are based on deeply personal experiences. Perhaps more importantly, we have the impression that whites and blacks don’t often speak with one another about these experiences, at least not openly and candidly.
When we compared the stories people told us about their experiences with race, we started to see a bigger picture emerge regarding the real state of race relations in America. We became convinced that if more people were willing to share their personal experiences, and if those stories were available for more people to hear, it might just spark the honest conversation about race we need.
Around this time, we were introduced to Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder, a sociologist teaching at University of North Florida specializing in diversity, race relations, and gender issues. She writes, researches, and lectures on the contemporary experience of black Americans (and other minorities), and she provided thoughtful analysis during the Zimmerman case.
We told Dr. Wilder about our experience, and she told us that if we collected these personal stories in a scientific way, they would not only help spur the national conversation about race, but they could provide valuable data which social scientists could use to study the nature of race relations in America today.
This summer, Justice Outreach is commissioning Dr. Wilder to conduct a feasibility pilot study.
During the pilot, we’ll review existing literature on the subject, develop the research methodology, and conduct 2-3 targeted focus groups. At this stage, we plan on asking participants just a few questions: when they were born, where they were raised, which race they self-identify with, and then we’ll ask them to recall the first experience they can remember where they encountered racism. This will include whether they saw it, caused it, or experienced it. Based upon the results of this pilot study, we hope to expand the study to include a larger sample of individuals, and to refine our methodology to collect more actionable data.
While we conduct this research, we also hope to share (anonymously, of course) some of the stories that we encounter.
We will also be sharing some of our own personal stories, and we will be encouraging some high-profile figures to openly share their personal experiences with race. Our hope is that the mutual understanding born from this public conversation (and from the data we collect) will help us identify one of the roots of America’s race problem, and perhaps provide some clues on how to solve it.