We’re so excited that Ms. Angela Dion, the counselor, successful author, professional writing coach and motivational speaker, recently took time out of her busy schedule to chat with us and discuss her current book Let's Talk About Race (http://www.everythingiric.com/index.php?option=com_mtree&task=viewlink&link_id=1847&Itemid=2).
Below is the full interview. After reading the interview, please take a moment to visit her site (http://www.dioncommunications.com/) to learn more about her work.
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1. You touched upon growing up in a "voluntarily segregated" section of Maryland. Please share a little more about our childhood there.
I was raised in Loveville, MD, population 500. I don't think I knew that we were voluntarily segregated until I moved out of the state. Basically, the black people staying on one side, the whites on the other. No one questioned it or had a problem with it - maybe they didn't even notice it.
2. What impact did your father’s words – “never trust white people” – have on you growing up?
Fortunately my mother taught me to not look at color but character. I knew my father had a deep mistrust of white people, his stuff from his past, and he wanted to protect me.
3. How did you learn to “trust white people” enough to marry one?
It was difficult for me to trust anyone fully - white or black, again my father's influence. Marc and I became friends first and over time I learned to trust him and love him.
4. Congratulations on being married for over twenty years. As a newlywed, I am in awe. What was your first impression of your husband Marc?
I thought he was a nice guy and a great listener. Neither of us was interested in dating the other. In fact, we were both dating other people when we met.
5. Did you date outside of your race/culture before getting together with him?
6. Did Marc?
7. What has been the most unusual reaction to your relationship?
I think it's weird when people assume we're not together - happens a lot when we go to restaurants. Most unusual was in South Carolina when we basically stopped all conversation and everyone just stared at us.
8. Do you get "looks" from people because of the racial/cultural difference in your relationship?
9. Do you get more "looks" from black or white people? Young or Old?
Probably older, white men. I don't know for sure though.
10. Truthfully, how was meeting the family – on your end and his?
My mother was the most supportive - she likes to tell people that she always knew I'd marry a white man. My father never really warmed up to Marc - he was out of my soon after we got married (not because of Marc, but his stuff), he died before our son was born. The rest of my family "tested" Marc with a poker game - he passed and won all their money! Marc's family is a lot quieter in general.
11. How did you feel when you first heard your mother-in-law refer to black people as “colored”?
I felt angry, felt like she was a racist, felt she was insulting, hurt that Marc didn't defend me.
12. How do you feel about it now?
She needed to be educated, she doesn't say "colored" anymore so I'm educating her about Puerto Ricans now - think I'll be correcting her racial slurs forever.
13. How did your in-laws react to your relationship?
My father-in-law is so reserved, I didn't know. When my son was born though, we got to see the proud Grandpa (Marcel is his first and only grandson). He and Marcel (now 19) have a wonderful relationship. My father-in-law is a great example of how children can soften any heart. My mother-in-law and I have a wonderful relationship now, it took some time but I think at the core she knows I love and respect her son.
14. Did you hold a race discussion with your in-laws or your family before or since getting married? Tell us about it.
A million of them, with everyone. educating my mother-in-law, dispelling myths about white people with my family, showing how marriage words regardless of race, showing the love of God regardless of race, so many examples.
15. Why do you think so many people – especially those in close personal interracial relationships – seem uncomfortable discussing race?
I don't know if those in close interracial relationships are especially uncomfortable. People are afraid they'll offend, be offended, say the wrong thing, be perceived as a racist, lots of fears about being honest about race
16. Paint a picture of the first weekly discussion that prompted you to write "Let’s Talk About Race".
No one knew quite what to expect. We asked why everyone came and what their fears/expectations were. That was a great ice breaker. We were in the honeymoon phase then (I discuss different group phases in my book) so no one wanted to rock the boat. We just got to know each other better and we each answered the question, "When did you first become aware of different races?"
17. Based on your experience, who tends to be the least receptive to discussing race?
I don't know that there is a type, but discussions are more difficult with those who are sensitive emotionally, have an agenda to push, or think they're right and have nothing to learn.
18. Based on your experience, who tends to be the most receptive to discussing race?
It's easier when respect and rapport is established in the relationship, I encourage people to try to assume the best instead of the worse in other's motives. Also, those willing to listen and learn.
19. What are some actionable steps for starting a race conversation with friends or family?
Again, there so much, something as simple as watching the movie "Crash" and going to a meal for discussion after - I have sample questions in the book to spark discussions. Also something as simple as noticing how people sit at a business meeting of a news item can spark a discussion.
20. Choose an audience and describe a typical "Let's Talk About Race" seminar. *Audience examples: Small Business, Local Church, Recently merged interracial stepfamily...
For any group, I share my story and how I got here. Then I start with some ground rules for discussion: agree to disagree, assume the best, no agendas, confidentiality, respect (I have an entire chapter of rules in the book). Then we have a discussion - for a business we can talk about perceptions of management, what's working/not working for an organization, etc. For church - the stats on church segregation, practical steps to integrate, what's the fear. For stepfamily - expectations of blendedness, any hidden feelings that need to be expressed (I have experience with family counseling so the issues might center on more than race). Of course I'd let them all know that one discussion is not the solution, but many discussions over a period of several months (maybe even years in the case of the family) work best.
21. What other projects are you working on that will be of interest to our audience?
Available to speak about race/diversity specifically concentrating on colleges - how to cope with race on campus for students and professors, living with your "different" roommate, unlearning what your parents taught you about race and churches No More Segregated Sunday program for churches who want help becoming more racially diverse.