Here are things you should know about me. I grew up in a military family. My dad was in the Army. I am an only child. I am 25 years old. I lie and say I am 5’8 when I am actually 5’9. Eating is my favorite hobby. I have two degrees. I am black.
As I watched a documentary at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, as part of their current “RACE: Are we so different?” exhibit, I could not help but to think about my own story and how race has affected who I am today.
Out of all things that I have mentioned above, I can confidently say that my race has played a big role in my upbringing. It has closed doors of opportunity, but it has also opened many doors for me. I see the world through the lens of my race. This lens guides the decisions that I make and is the driving motivation that I have to succeed. Because I am a person of color, I feel that I have some advantage or privilege to see the impact race has on the world around me and be sensitive to it.
Talking about Race isn’t easy
To many people, race is often a sensitive topic. Everyone is so worried about being politically correct that we are often silent on the issues that keep coming up in our society. We are afraid to speak out because we believe that being, means being against the other.
What we do not realize is that the silence only hurts more. Not talking about it does not mean race does not exist or that it will go away.
More similarities than differences
What I learned exploring the Raleigh, N.C. exhibit was that biologically each of us are more the same than we are different. Many of the reasons that we have used to distinguish ourselves from each other are simply manifestations of our environment. One of the first displays within the exhibit actually talks about our genetic make-up and how we all migrated from Africa. As we adapted to different parts of the world, our bodies (like our skin, hair, eyes, and features) evolved in order for us to survive in varying climates.
I was surprised to learn that even health differences are not effects of our race but are often caused as a result of our environment. For instance, we often link higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes cases to people of color. While those diseases are more prevalent among these groups, they exist only because of cultural norms and diet than because of their “genetic makeup”. Many times these groups also suffer because of the social constructs, associated with race and class structure, in our society that limits access to good education and health care. According to studies done by the American Anthropology Association, even the stress of racial discrimination has been linked to health problems such as high blood pressure and low birth-weights.
So why should we care?
Race has a powerful effect on where we live, what schools we attend, the jobs that are available, what stressors we experience and occasionally the types of health care we have access to. We can also turn on our televisions and scroll through our social media feeds to see disturbing news and comments that remind us that there is still much work to be done to improve race relations in our country.
So what do we do now? How do we help to end the effects racism has on our society? The first step is simple. We talk about it. We acknowledge that we do not have all the right answers and we make sure that everyone has a seat at the table and an opportunity to speak.
The exhibit provided a facilitator that asked thought-provoking questions about each of our feelings after looking through the displays. I thought it was powerful to hear was how everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background was deeply disturbed by the facts presented throughout the exhibit. It was not a time to cast blame or point fingers, instead, everyone expressed suggestions on how we can move forward and make sure every voice is heard.
You may think you know everything about race, but I assure you that you don’t. As America continues to be a melting pot of different cultures and races, it is imperative that we educate ourselves and keep having these conversations.
Offering a safe place to discuss Race
What I appreciate about being at Blue Cross NC is that in partnership with our Employee Networks (affinity groups) we are beginning to have the conversation. While we are not experts in this field, we recognize that starting the conversation is the first step. We strive to ensure that our conversations provide a safe space where employees feel like they can speak from the heart and their views be respected. I believe that if we continue to walk around saying that we do not have a “race” problem, we close ourselves up to being unaware and insensitive to the experiences of others. However, if we say we do have a “race” problem, our hearts and minds are open to having the conversation and listening to the perspectives of others.
My experiences and views are crafted by the world around me and that makes me (and YOU) unique.
“RACE: Are We So Different?” is the first exhibition in the nation to tell the story of race from a biological, cultural and historical point of view. It features documentaries, interactive mediums, personal stories, and an opportunity to share your own experience. If you have not had the chance to visit the RACE exhibit at the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh, I encourage you to visit before it closes on Oct. 22.
“RACE: Are We So Different?” is presented locally by A.J. Fletcher Foundation, with additional support from Duke Energy Foundation, City of Raleigh, Wells Fargo, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.