Letters: Talking About Race

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Listeners weigh in on our discussion about the way America talks about race. They share their stories of talking about racially charged issues at home and in the workplace.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

It's Tuesday, the day we read from your letters. Our show on how we talk about race and how that conversation differs in different environments burned up our blog and our e-mail inbox.

Victoria(ph) wrote, I'm a 45-year-old black woman who will be the first black woman in my family to marry a white man. I must admit that our conversations around the dinner table concerning race are different than the ones I have with my coworkers. When the issue of race comes up at home, we are more emotional in our discussions. At work, I tend to stick with fact. Sometimes I think my openness might shock my white coworkers. They're surprised that I can talk about racial issues without getting angry or bitter and surprised, the reality of my life as a black woman.

Jeriah(ph) commented about how age informs talk about race. Some of how we talked about race is generational. She wrote, I'm a 21-year-old African-American college student. I've grown up with white, Hispanic and Asians from kindergarten so when I heard Reverend Wright's message, I was offended. However my mother and I got into one of our typical political arguments. She felt the pastor was telling the truth from his heart. She told me I would never know what it's like to have to use separate restrooms or sit in separate places at the movies because of the color of your skin. I would never know pure racism. For me, I told her that I hate racists no matter what their skin is but my experience with white Americans is totally different.

And this comment from Love(ph) on our blog, affirmed a very different kind of upbringing one where race wasn't talked about at all. My mother, a white woman, taught us to be color-blind. It made sense to me growing up, the idea that we shouldn't judge people based on their race and the way to ensure that was to ignore it. But years later in a college classroom, my world was turned upside down when a professor, Becky Thompson(ph), another white woman used the phrase color-consciousness. It still amazes me to think that I used to believe that ignoring a person's racial experience was supposed to help us to know them better.

Well, help us to know your experience better, send us your comments, questions or corrections. The best way to reach us is by e-mail. The address talk@npr.org. Please let us know where you're writing from. Give us some help on how to pronounce your name. If you want to go back and listen to the show, you can find our podcast by going to npr.org/talk.

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How Do Americans Talk About Race?

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Sen. Barack Obama spoke on Tuesday about the role race has played in the presidential campaign and addressed the racially charged remarks made by his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Guests and callers weigh in on the ways in which Americans talk about race in public and in private.

Guests:

Erin Aubry Kaplan, columnist for The Los Angeles Times, author of the op-ed "Black Isn't Enough"

Robert Jensen, professor of journalism at the University of Texas; author of The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege

Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; author of the Los Angeles Times op-ed "Obama Blew It"

Gustavo Arellano, writer of the Ask a Mexican column

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