I was delighted to see Dawn Turner Trice’s call out in the Tribune on March 23 to start the conversation on race. “Let’s start a discussion. What question would you ask of a person of a different race to get to know him or her better?” I’m thinking this is fantastic, let’s go.
But then she follows the invitation by saying, “Keep in mind that this isn’t just about what white people want to ask people of color.” It seems curious to invite open dialogue but then throw in a comment that might make someone, in this case a white someone, feel self-conscious about it.
But asking questions is critical, particularly in intercultural communications, because it helps overcome underlying assumptions (you know what they say about “you” and “me” and assume) and the answers can be illuminating in a way that makes you more open and receptive in future exchanges.
Years ago in the early 90’s I was working for a not-for-profit merchants association for a street of fancy retail shops, art galleries and salons in Boston, and in honor of the organization’s 20th Anniversary the Board wanted to make a donation to the school that was located in one of the historic buildings on the street. Seeing an inner-city, public high school with a majority African American student body, the board said “oh, those poor children, they must need books and pens and paper.” I suggested it would perhaps be better to talk directly to the principal and ask what they needed most. Her answer? “Scholarship money to send four students to Israel.” Who’da thunk?
Lesson? Don’t let your assumptions limit the dreams of others. Ask.*
*Note to self, since this is about the importance of asking questions, I will ask Ms. Trice about her comment, and let you know. In the meantime, it’s great that someone so high-profile is inviting the dialogue, and I look forward to listening in and participating.