A Trending #stateofrace

What is the State of Race?

Race is an uncomfortable topic. It is an old topic. Yet, race is still a relevant topic.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the Aspen Institute’s State of Race Symposium as a Social Media Ambassador at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

To provide a brief context of myself, or as Michele Norris, Executive Director, The Bridge, and Founding Director, The Race Card Project, would have asked me “in a few words, describe your cultural identity,” I am an Asian-American, GenX, woman, mother, wife, writer and human.

It was an honor to sit in a room with thought leaders, correspondents and authors such as Omar Wasow, Tanzina Vega, Thomas Shapiro, Adam Foss, Amy Hinojosa, Charles Firestone, Richard Lui, Juan Williams and more. To hear directly from Congressman James Clyburn and the honorable, enduring Khizr Khan and to be entertained by poet Pages Matam all made for an exhilarating and thought-provoking forum to listen, share and question our thoughts on race.

But now what?

If the purpose of the State of Race Symposium is to foster a conversation, then what can we do to continue this dialogue? What actions can we take to improve this state of race? How do we make sure we don’t repeat the same story next year? Do we need to reframe the conversation?

I think most would agree there is no definitive solution. In fact, Gallup’s poll in January 2017 shows only 22% Americans are satisfied with the state of race. And a recent PEW study shows that people identify race as the country’s biggest problem.

When it comes to race, fear dominates the conversation. People are afraid of saying something offensive. People are threatened at the prospect of losing something whether it’s freedom, rights or home ownership, a job or higher wages.

My fellow Social Ambassadors and I took to a Twitter storm as we captured the key takeaways of the day. The #stateofrace even surged as a trending topic. Here are some top tweets worth revisiting:

  • Narratives are critical in how we talk about White poverty vs. Black poverty vs. Brown poverty.
  • When we talk about race, we are often at the intersection of race and wealth.
  • You will never be any more or any less than your experiences.
  • You cannot divorce the color of your skin with your day to day experiences. People should acknowledge color.
  • Resolving disparities is about more than compassion. You have to have curiosity about other people’s lives.
  • There’s a difference between race and racism. “Racism is toxic. Race is not. Race is beautiful.”
  • Solutions will not come from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. They’ll come from the people.
  • The most efficient, lasting way out of poverty is education. And you don’t get it by clipping coupons.
  • It’s a long process but don’t give up on your pursuits. (on today’s youth)
  • Race is not erased with wealth.
  • The real threat to the White working class is not immigrants, it’s robots.
  • We generally think of inheritance in terms of wealth. But poverty and disadvantage are also passed down with generational baton.
  • If the story of America is upward mobility we are not seeing that for the bottom half.
  • Amendments are human dignities. We are all of same voice that these dignities must be maintained & defended.
  • Racial and ethnic diversity is a hallmark of US society and makes this country a great place to live.

A town hall discussion opened up to all attendees, and the focus centered on Black race issues. Race is very much a Black urban conversation today but it does need to open up to all races. Black issues are Asian American Pacific Island issues are Latino issues are Native American issues, etc. There was a noticeable generational gap among the attendees bringing out different points of view with one side saying “this is what I am being taught” vs. “you’re not hearing me” or “do it this way.”

I had the chance to have a round table debrief with my fellow Ambassadors as well as Michele Norris and Arica Van Boxtel of The Aspen Institute. We spoke of things that were left out of the race discussion. While I brought up the absence of AAPI representation in both the panels and attendance, others brought up the absence of gender as it pertains to the wealth gap. On what was also Equal Pay Day, April 4, gender was left out of the conversation and its implications to race and wealth. Discussion of immigration and refugees were never brought up as well as the absence of a White person on the Future Dialogue on Race panel. All of these topics warrant more awareness and dialogue.

I am humbled to have been a part of a thoughtful discourse on race. I met some amazing people who are doing tireless and fearless work in this arena. I still have a lot to learn. I left with more questions than when I arrived. But I’m empowered to move forward with the discussion.

As I drove the three hours back to Pennsylvania my mind turned to thoughts of home. I live in the Reading area, a city that’s ranked the second poorest city in the country. The population has 40% poverty. Hispanics make up for 60% of the population with 10% Black and the remainder White or mixed. I live in a small suburb of Reading, only 4 miles away separated by a bridge, where the population is 86% White and the median income is $75k. I’m one of the 3% Asians. It’s a disturbing reality that reflects my state of race at home. We all have our work cut out for us.

Race will continue to be a contentious topic. At the very least it is worthy of acknowledgment and not something that should be ignored or shrugged off as yesterday’s news. Let’s hope for more open conversations even if the outcome is to agree to disagree. As Mr. Khan elegantly stated, “I’ll continue to speak until these stressful times for my nation are over.” Let’s do the same.