Why Tiptoe? A Stance on Candidly Addressing Race

February 13th, 2011 · 2 Comments

By Melissa Beatriz Skolnick

What would conversations be like if we were all completely candid with our words and were able to bravely face reality?

Have you ever heard people talk about the “the community” or “inner city” and use these words as euphemisms for low-income individuals or people of color? What images come to mind when words such as “ghetto” or “urban” are used in order to describe a certain demographic?

I hear these descriptors constantly, and frankly, it makes me so irritated. Many times, when overhearing individuals discussing the “inner city” or the like, I feel like saying, “You mean Blacks or Latinos?”

It can be frustrating when I know others are talking about people of color, but don’t have the courage to directly say it out loud.

Of course, there is a reason why some people choose to talk around the issue of race, rather than directly referencing the group that they are discussing. Overall, people don’t want to bring up race. Acknowledging race would mean that individuals would need to recognize that one’s race truly can shape someone’s circumstances.

If people would acknowledge that race is an issue though, a very extensive conversation would need to be held, and past wrongs would need to be fleshed out. This conversation would consist of acknowledging racial differences, as well as recognizing that Whites are in fact beneficiaries of these very differences that can be detrimental to people of color. (These ideas are further expressed in The Racial Contract by Charles Mills).

Let’s talk about how it wasn’t until 1954 that a desegregation of schools was enacted. Let’s discuss how the Civil Rights Era marked a time in which African Americans gained “rights” on paper, yet this has never fully been the case in reality. We should also explore how race “doesn’t matter” and that we live in a “post-racial society,” yet many think it is okay to stop people who look “illegal” based on the color of their skin and ask for documentation.

People may not necessarily want to face the implications that a conversation about race would entail—avoiding the actual acknowledgment of race when discussing people from the “inner city” allows others to remain comfortable. Yet, if this were to be acknowledged and discussed in a candid manner, then this would validate that racism and discrimination do in fact exist.

We would then be forced to face the reality of the significance of race in issues such as housing, education, poverty, food insecurity, job discrimination, etc. With that, we would need to engage in a painful discourse as a society, perhaps ultimately changing our mindsets for the better.

Let’s be honest, all groups face poverty. Yet, when people discuss the “ghetto,” they are most likely referring to Blacks and Latinos. It would be much more effective to acknowledge that what we really mean when we say “the community” is people of color. If anything, it makes the issue worse when some individuals disguise what they are really thinking with loaded euphemisms. The tension can be sensed when individuals try hard to avoid bringing light to the role race plays in their daily interactions. Yet, race is often fundamentally underlying their thoughts surrounding discussions about the “inner city.”

I urge individuals to be more candid with their language. It is when people do not own up to what they are really thinking that miscommunication and negative undertones spark. Instead of tiptoeing around the issue of race, let’s directly put it out there and say what we mean.

Melissa Beatriz Skolnick is currently a graduate student attaining her Master’s in Social Work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She strives to merge social work and journalism together in order to bring more awareness to various underrepresented communities, as well as to bring light to societal inconsistencies. In addition, she hopes to one day impact society through endeavors such as policy-making, writing through a widespread medium, and speaking to those who are willing to listen.

Tags: African-Americans · Civil Rights · Education · Immigration · racism

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nordette Adams // Feb 15, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Our tendency to try to hide from this discussion by employing assorted euphemisms continues to bite us in the rear.

  • 2 Fay Paxton // May 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Well said. I recently wrote a very candid and rather angry piece about exactly what you speak of. As long as there is a denial of history, an honest conversation will never take place.

    I frequently write about immigration, law enforcement and just plain old bigotry. I always do so from a historical point of view, but the comments are so awful, I spend as much time deleting as I do writing. An honest conversation will never take place.

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