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When It’s Difficult to Talk about Race, Try Gender

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

I was on a plane on my way to Seattle and got the chance to talk to a pretty interesting guy about … everything. If you know me at all, you know that talking to people about anything and everything is one of my gifts. So, here I am talking to this guy, an older white guy, former military, about language, race, and culture, as I do. He happened to work with “at-risk” youth (read: African American children from low-income backgrounds). Things are going well until I start to talk about “Black Lives Matter.” “I don’t get it,” he says. “All lives matter.” *Sigh. Why people still don’t get this concept is difficult for me to comprehend, so I decided to break it down to him in the best way I knew how.

In my conversations with White people who are close to me and White people I’ve met on airplanes who are perfect strangers to me, I’ve found that it can be difficult for them to wrap their heads around conversations about race. And you know what? I get it. Of course it’s hard for them to “get” it because they’ve never lived a life in which they have to “get” it. They’ve been placed in the sweet spot of society that allows them to never have to even try to “get” it. Yes, this is another way to explain White privilege, but I won’t dare go there (today) because I know how upset that concept makes certain people feel. But, what I will do is try to get people to understand these conversations about race by talking about gender.

When it’s hard to wrap your head around race, let’s talk about gender.

Anyone ever wear a small pink ribbon to support research to cure breast cancer? I know I have. I’ve even run a 5k (maybe it was longer) for the Susan G. Komen foundation. And you know what? I’ve seen men wearing pink ribbons. I’ve seen NFL players wearing pink socks and shoes to support research for breast cancer. Why? Because it is a terrible disease that is killing off our grandmothers, mothers, daughters, nieces, and aunts. What’s so wrong with wearing little pink ribbons? It means that you support breast cancer research and are an advocate for women and families who have to face this terrible disease and for the survivors as well.

So, does wearing a little pink ribbon mean that you are against prostate cancer? Does it mean screw prostate cancer? Does it mean that men aren’t important to our society? Does it mean that men’s health isn’t even worth wearing a small blue ribbon for?

No that’s not what it means at all.

It means that breast cancer is the cancer that is of prominence in the present climate. It means that we need to focus on the 1 in 8 women who will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. It means we should care about the 21.5 out of 100,000 women who will die from breast cancer and to do this we must take swift action to make sure that we can generate preventative measures to save women who are killed by the second-leading cause of death in women.

Why is it so much easier for us to grasp these gender differences than to understand that racial and ethnic differences exist as well?

Yes, race is socially constructed, but the way our world is now, race matters.

It’s really not too complicated y’all: Gender differences exist and as a result we focus on different issues that manifest in our society based on gender, be this health, reproductive rights, pay wages, etc. Race and ethnic differences exist. As a result we need to focus on the different issues that manifest in society based on race, be this educational resources, socioeconomic status, or the vast number of Black males being killed by law enforcement.

Black lives matter. I am very passionate about this movement because so many of the children I’ve worked with in my career have been young Black males. I also have three older brothers. I have cousins. I have a nephew. I have a dad. And one day I will hopefully have a son. Black lives matter.

This is not to say that police officers’ lives don’t matter. This is not to say that white lives don’t matter. This is not to say that Latino/a lives or Asian lives or Middle Eastern lives don’t matter. This is to say that our society needs to take action and generate measures to prevent the senseless killings of too many Black lives; men women, boys, and girls.

So, if it’s hard for you to wrap your head around conversations of race, try to make it about gender. Wearing a little pink ribbon to support a cure for breast cancer doesn’t mean you’re against men’s health, just as supporting Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean you’re against…well, anyone.

October is the time designated to highlight breast cancer awareness and NOW is the time to focus on Black lives in America.

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