Op-Ed: Yes, Even Liberal Enclaves Like Silicon Valley Need Candid Conversations About Race

With the vitriolic nature of the discourse on race in America, it is no wonder most people try to sidestep the conversation altogether. But, what we need is more conversation on race—not less. So, I was pleased when Bellarmine College Prep high school invited me to their Race in the 21st Century discussion.

As the program manager for the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza’s Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute (MALI), I work to create opportunities for more diversity in the arts and cultural sector. Through the program, I seek to eliminate barriers that prevent local multicultural artists from reaching their full potential. A core part of my work is to lead conversations on race-based inequities—so I was excited to come and speak to Bellarmine students.

Yet, I had a lingering question: was Bellarmine really ready for this conversation?

In my work, I find that while many organizations pay lip service to addressing diversity, equity and inclusion. However, when it comes time to take the medicine by embracing the truth of racial inequity, it becomes too bitter a pill to swallow. Defensiveness becomes the order of the day even our supposedly liberal enclave.

I have a vested interest in moving the race conversation forward. Therefore, I have been working on honing my language when it comes to addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I want my speech and rhetoric to not dilute uncomfortable truths while also providing invitations for honest dialogue. To this end, the young men at one the Silicon Valley’s most acclaimed private schools would be a good test audience.

When I arrived at Bellarmine, my concerns about the school’s readiness for the discussion on race were quickly allayed. Bellarmine Director of Christian Service Steve Pinkston greeted me and explained that the “Race in The 21st Century” conversation was part of Bellarmine’s eighth annual Human Diversity day. Topics for previous Human Dignity days have included a range of topics, including poverty and immigration. Mr. Pinkston acknowledged  the sensitive nature of the race discussion and shared that Bellarmine had spent a full year planning for this day

The school had invited a “who’s who” roster of people from the area’s multicultural arts and social justice agencies to deliver more than 20 workshops dealing with issues of race and inequality. Workshops included  ”Racial and Social Justice in The Arts,” presented by Ron P Muriera; “Challenging Islamophobia,” presented by CAIR-SFBA; and, “Seeking Redemption,” presented by Silicon Valley De-Bug.

My workshop, entitled “Unpacking Privilege,” used racism and white privilege as the starting point for conversation. I  also touched on issues such as toxic masculinity and classism. Using relevant reference points like sports, dating apps, and the movie Black Panther, we talked about the various forms of privilege that exist in our society and raised how we benefit from such privilege. We discussed the ways in which we perpetuate them—sometimes without knowing it.

The two 50-minute sessions I conducted were lively and engaging. There was head nodding, there was some pushback, but no student was asleep at his desk. (In my previous work with high-school aged youth, I’ve found that slumbering students is always a possibility). In general, I left with the impression that Bellarmine, as an institution, is more than ready to host these types of discussions. Moreover, the students were more eager to have this discussion than most adults I meet.

I think that, for many of us adults, we reach a certain station in life—constructing an airtight narrative about how we get here. Oftentimes, in this story we tell ourselves, our individual hard work is front and center. We don’t take much time to better understand unearned perks, also known as privilege, that are baked into every aspect of society.

We fail to pay attention. We become callous to the struggles of others because it runs counter to our own narrative of success.

In both of my workshop sessions with the Bellarmine students, I encouraged them to be curious about other people’s stories. I also left them with the message that they have incredible power, potential and privilege.

I noted to them that by taking the discussion about race head-on, they can to live up to Bellarmine’s creed, “Men For Others.”

Demone Carter is an award-winning artist, educator, and creative catalyst from San Jose. Performing under the name DEM ONE, he has released several albums and was named a 2016 Silicon Valley Artist Laureate. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Interested in writing an op-ed? Email pitches to [email protected].

7 Comments

  1. How candid?

    Are you willing to acknowledge that most unfavorable police encounters are due to lack of cooperation (or straight up resisting arrest) and not simply racism or brutality?

  2. So, Mr. Carter made a false assumption about Bellarmine before he went there. Sounds like at least implied bias to me. Rather ironic, don’t ya think, Mr. Carter.

  3. > Yes, Even Liberal Enclaves Like Silicon Valley Need Candid Conversations About Race

    What’s this? Didn’t we already have our candid conversation about race?

    Didn’t we decide that blacks are victims, black lives matter, and white people have white skin privilege?

    And David Duke is a racist and Al Sharpton is a civil rights leader?

    And Donald Trump is a racist, and half of the people who supported him are deplorable?

    And Elizabeth Warren is a native American, and therefore deserves to be on the faculty of Harvard Law School?

    Didn’t Starbucks lead the candid conversation on race by putting messages on its cups?

    Why do we need ANOTHER conversation? Did the last candid conversation on race fail?

    Why wouldn’t another candid conversation on race also fail?

  4. Please explain who is really responsible for “the vitriolic nature of the discourse on race in America”? Most folks don’t go around arguing about that, because it comes across as “Oh, poor me.” People would much rather hear someone say they “can do” something, despite any obstacles.

    Also, ‘diversity’ is bad. It pits Us versus Them; our tribe against the other tribe. Instead, we should go back to the principle that founded this country: Equal opportunity.

    But that has been replaced by ”equality of results’ ( “Everybody gets a participation trophy!”)

    Most folks prefer equal opportunity. This is a great country, but it didn’t become great from the current ‘I’m a poor victim’ mind-set. And despite the many $billions thrown at the problem of ‘racism’, which exists, how are folks any better off? Despite all that money, black marriages are at an all time low, and most of their kids grow up without a father figure. Sure, someone got that money. But are their kids better off?

    And at the very first opportunity, those same tribes are salivating at the prospect of sticking it to Da (white) Man. That attitude has infected our society to the point that when a judge goes by a committee’s sentencing recommendation, women’s groups are up in arms because of… you guessed it: they’re victims of Da Man, too. Since that judge is a Caucasian, he’s fair game. If he was a protected race, or female, they wouldn’t have their revenge motive. But he’s a white male, so it’s A-OK to get some revenge at his expense.

    Is our country any better off after seventy+ years of flogging the ‘racism’ horse? To hear the complainants, everything is worse, or at least, not much better.

    So I’d like to ask Mr. Carter: how much money is enough? Give us a number, please. And I’ve heard that only white folks can be racist. What does Carter say? And when will we know that ‘racism’ is fixed? Or will it never be fixed? I suspect that as long as there’s money available, Carter’s answer would be “Never.”

    Well, at least Mr. Carter got a job from it. Good for him.

    But just so he knows, his “barriers to inclusion” for artists is a bunch of bogus nonsense. Because the fact is, it is M-O-N-E-Y that these so-called ‘artists’ crave. But they’re just not good enough.

    If they want money, all they have to do is produce art that people are willing to pay for. If they can’t, why should the government (meaning taxpayers) be forced to pay for something that the art market doesn’t want?

    There’s another question for Mr. Carter. But I’m betting he’ll steer clear of that one, too…

  5. > Demone Carter is an award-winning artist, educator, and creative catalyst from San Jose.. . .

    WHAT A COINCIDENCE!

    I’m also an award-winning artist, educator and creative catalyst. AND, I’m from San Jose.

    San Jose may have a housing shortage, but we’ll make up for it with a glut of artists.

    Maybe the art community could learn how to build houses.

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