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Racial Baggage Challenge: Week 1

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - Comments during the recent mayoral debate sparked a discussion over how segregated and integrated St. Louis really is. Even before that debate came to the fore, I had been sharing tips and personal stories about how I and those around me are working to make integration real in St. Louis. The Beacon has asked that I bring that effort to its site.

This project will mean rejecting the status quo of our social circles and will most likely involve some missteps. Yet, if we are ever get to the place we envision — where we can be in authentic relationship across lines of difference, where that happens more often than it doesn’t — we have to shed some racial baggage. Just as physical movement aids in shedding weight, social movement aids in shedding racial weight. To move forward toward the goal of having interactional diversity rather than mere numerical diversity, we need to explore our own identities and educate ourselves about other social groups.

In the realm of race relations, I don't know many people who would explicitly state that they desire to lead racially isolated and segregated lives. Quite the contrary, people have rainbow coalition dreams of children of all races holding hands while skipping and people living and working together in harmony. But, let's get real; we have a great deal of work to do to authentically live in that vision. Whether it is our own fear, our lack of exposure, relationship or even opportunity, there is gap between where we are and where we want to be.

This journey to shed racial baggage will have eight installments. You can jump on and off as you please. A challenge will appear every other week in the Beacon.

My hope is that as you engage in the various activities you

  1. learn more about yourself and others,
  2. understand the dynamics of race in our society, and
  3. begin to see ways you can interrupt the cycle of racism

to minimize the ways race weighs us down.
So, we start with examining our own personal bias. You might say, "I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body."

To that, I would say, "think again." We ALL have them, and that does not make us, our parents or our families bad people.

It might seem odd that we will begin within. But to rush to focusing on learning about or befriending "others" without first examining oneself is ... well, dangerous. Unexamined, our assumptions and biases get in the way and make across-group interactions difficult.

The biggest lesson is to be aware of your biases rather than deny they exist. Awareness will pave the way for the rest of our challenge. So, resist the urge to skip over this step assuming you are one of the "good ones." Each one of us could benefit from self-reflection to become more aware of our unconscious biases.

Goal for Week One: To get a baseline and begin to develop an awareness of our unconscious biases.

Challenge for Week One: Your task for the week is to go through at least one of the following implicit association tests offered by Harvard: Race, Weapons, Asian, Arab-Muslim, or Native(this will make sense when you get to the site and will take about 10 minutes). Keep your results somewhere where you can refer back.

The implicit association test is a task that reflects the possible disconnect between what we consciously say and what we unconsciously think.

That’s it! It’s that simple.

* For bonus points, talk about your results with someone you trust.

** For extra bonus points, take this quiznow so that you can compare your results at the end.

Join us in working to "be the change you wish to see in the world."

Kira Hudson Banks