‘Race Talks’: La Jolla webinar emphasizes importance of dialogue about race

Clockwise from top left, La Jolla Historical Society Executive Director Heath Fox, Earl Edwards and Jim DeBello
Clockwise from top left, La Jolla Historical Society Executive Director Heath Fox, UC San Diego Athletic Director Earl Edwards and 2020 congressional candidate Jim DeBello participate in a “Race Talks” webinar Nov. 18.

UC San Diego Athletic Director and La Jolla Rotary Club member Earl Edwards recognizes that conversations about race can be uncomfortable. They’re “imperative” he said, but uncomfortable.

The La Jolla Historical Society presented a webinar titled “Race Talks” on Nov. 18 with Edwards and 2020 congressional candidate Jim DeBello (R-Point Loma). The two focused on the importance of having difficult conversations, along with strategies to help facilitate them.

“The purpose of tonight is to engage in conversation from a White person to a Black person,” DeBello said of himself and Edwards. “I grew up in the era of ‘color blindness.’ We thought that was the proper approach. Not mentioning color when you sat across the table from a Black man or a Black woman, not acknowledging their race for fear of being considered racist. Well, the table has turned. … For the first time, we have been able to unleash this conversation, where before we were uncomfortable.”

Edwards said that “often when people talk about this being a difficult conversation, they are looking at it from the White perspective, but it is also difficult from a Black perspective. ... I feel secure … and comfortable talking about race, but that is not true for many Blacks, especially for those that are not in stable working conditions. You can find yourself experiencing repercussions for having that discussion. So you need to make sure that people [you would like to talk to] are willing to have the conversation.”

Edwards provided what he called the PAL rules for conversations about racism:

• Personal attacks are not acceptable.

• Assume that whatever the other person says is with good intent.

• Listen, because “so often we are triggered by something and want to jump in and one party doesn’t let the other person complete their thought.”

Choice of words matters in these conversations, he said.

“The next thing we need to do is move away from calling someone a racist to addressing the words,” Edwards said. “The words may be racist, but the individual saying them may not be.”

For example, he said, when someone uses the phrase “You throw like a girl,” the person might not be sexist, but the words are. “When that gets called out, I can recognize that and adjust accordingly,” he said.

Edwards also advocated continuing the conversation within one’s sphere of influence.

“When I started to talk about racism and social injustice, it was within the athletics and sports arena that I am familiar with. … But when I thought about it, all of us have a much greater sphere of influence than we realize, whether it’s your family, your friends, organizations you are connected with, the workplace, community, there are a lot of people we all touch,” he said. “If we make a commitment to address racism where we see it, make a commitment to talk about it so it becomes more comfortable, becomes part of who we are, we’ll end up in a much better place.”

Edwards said another way to carry forward an anti-racist message is to not laugh at racist jokes and instead ask why the person said what he or she said.

“Everyone should go through some sort of implicit bias training,” whether through work or online, he added.

He also said people need to speak up when they see injustices.

“If there was ever a time for this conversation, it would be now. Not just because of what we saw and continue to see with murders like what happened to George Floyd, but because the country is extremely divided,” Edwards said.

DeBello said “it can be hard to open up and say, ‘I’ve been trying to be color blind, now I want to engage in open conversation with a Black person,’ but take that first step. Engage. You’ll take some risks, but if you are sincere, that could reflect in my response. So try. Engage. Let’s keep the momentum going.” ◆