To Talk About Race, Begin with “Honest Conversations”

Facilitators at a virtual workshop on race and identity last week advised participants to start taking small actions now to support an endeavor that is lifelong.

“The only way to actually talk about race is to talk about race,” said Rebecca Smoler, who with Claudia Fox Tree conducted the session sponsored by the Parents Diversity Council and Bedford Embraces Diversity.

The second and last session of “Race and Identity: A Forum for Bedford’s Schools and Community” is scheduled for this Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m.  It is intended not only for teachers and parents but also for members of the community.  To register, connect via https://forms.gle/CFNfQpnZvUCmZr4TA.

Smoler, English language arts coordinator for the Sharon schools, and Fox Tree, a longtime Bedford resident who teaches middle school in Lincoln, are instructors for Initiatives for Developing Equity and Achievement for Students (IDEAS), part of the EDCO collaborative.

IDEAS provides learning opportunities for educational institutions and other organizations through a variety of services aimed to help develop anti-racist practices.

Last week’s program, attended by more than two dozen people, including several educators, began with various exercises on identity in Zoom breakout groups.

But the most poignant component was a videotape of a report on a study that took place more than a decade ago on young children’s attitudes on race. In the study, white children had an overwhelming bias toward white, and black children also had a bias toward white.

Following that segment, the program turned to action steps. Fox Tree pointed out that “it’s not an individual act of meanness. It works as a system” including institutionally and culturally. “And it’s working at all these levels constantly.”

Smoler illustrated a perpetual “a cycle of oppression,” evolving from stereotypes to prejudice to discrimination to “ideas absorbed into society.” At any point in the cycle, she said, “we can choose to disrupt,” identifying and challenging stereotypes.

The facilitators encouraged participants to pursue “honest conversations,” and to support with time and money community organizations doing the work.

“Think about the representation we offer to children in our sphere,” said Smoler, noting that more than three-quarters of children’s books feature either whites or animals as protagonists.

Fox Tree pointed out that so little teaching takes place regarding Indigenous people that all that exists is stereotyping.

Conversations are likely to be uncomfortable, Smiler said. “As a white person, I am always safe in a conversation about race. Anything we are talking about has not impacted me like it has others. A person of color might have had experiences making them feel unsafe.”

At the outset of the program, leaders acknowledged that today’s Bedford was, for centuries, tribal land. The statement, Fox Tree said, is “an opportunity to ‘unerase’ Indigenous voices. This inserts an awareness of their land rights that Indigenous people are still fighting for.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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