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The Turn: A Primer on Mixed Race Conversation in the South

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* This is a collaboration between Rev. Dr. Garth Baker-Fletcher and I at his home. A retired professor, Baker-Fletcher is the author of Somebodyness: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Theory of Dignity (1993), Xodus: An African-American Male Journey (1996), My Sister, My Brother (with his wife Karen) (1997), Black Religion After the Million Man March (1998), Dirty Hands: Christian Ethics in a Morally Ambiguous World (2000) & Bible Witness in Black Churches (2009). A cherished friend, I affectionately call him Brother Garth.

 

Most genteel mixed race public conversations begin with a turn toward each other. Whether the turn occurs based on sports, cars or something else that can be easily agreed upon, the purpose of the initial turn is to find some means of communication. This phase of conversation can be meaningful but does not lead to deep engagement. Unless there is a relationship between the conversationalists, the communication can only last so long. The conversation breaks down based on either running out of words or the inclusion of a word about family, religion, politics, race or something that causes the conversationalists to turn away from each other. To not turn away, would be rude. Southerners are taught to reject impolite conversation. At this point, the conversation usually collapses or grows increasingly heated. This is the problem with mixed race conversations in the South…we still don’t know how to turn back to each other. Our suggestion is to turn back to where the conversation started and try again. The consistent cycle is what can save us. In the midst of all the Bible reading, I think we Southerners forget that love has to be patient. With all of our baggage, how can we expect to learn to be different without a turn?

 

Amen.

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