Full text of Jay Smooth’s talk: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race at TEDxHampshireCollege conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: TEDxHampshireCollege – Jay Smooth on How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race
I want to talk a little bit about race tonight.
Or to be more precise, I want to talk about how we talk about race, how we engage in race conversations, and how we might get a little bit better at it in some ways. And that’s a topic that I have always enjoyed; most Americans avoid race conversations like the plague. And we often take our ability to avoid it and use it as a measure of our progress and enlightenment, which, I think, is kind of telling in and of itself.
But I’ve always been drawn to those conversations and fascinated by them. In part, because growing up as a very light-skinned black man of mixed descent, I often find myself in sort of peculiar race-based conversations. Often times when I’m meeting someone for the first time, rather than making small talk, they’ll immediately present me with a philosophical conundrum, they will ask, “What are you?”
And I’ll have to explain: “I’m not a philosophy major; my father is black, my mother is white, and what are we…”
So I’ve always had a passion for studying and observing how we communicate about race and how we might get a little better at certain aspects of that communication. And I made a video commentary named “How to tell someone they sound racist”, which talks about a particular type of race conversation, which usually doesn’t involve any explicit racist intent, there’s no blatant racism involved. It usually involves well-intentioned people, but it’s a situation where one of us feels the need to tell someone that something they said may have had connotations they were not aware of, or they may have done something that had a hurtful impact they might not have been aware of.