These past few weeks, months, and years have been inundated with tragic stories with a common thread, race and more specifically, racism. Just typing the word and allowing it to run across my mind evokes uncomfortable feelings. The immediate reaction of most when bringing up the conversation of race and racism is enough to never want to speak of it. As the co-chair of the Dallas Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (Dallas-TRHT) community-led organization alongside my talented friend, David Lozano, I have had the most life-changing few years discovering, uncovering, and learning how Dallas has and continues to talk about and most often not talk about race, nor grapple with our city’s history of racism.
For the Dallas TRHT organization and the work that we do, there is an intentionality in why we talk about transformation, instead of reconciliation. The framework and all of us that have signed up to do this work in this city and across the country, via an initial grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, understand that to reconcile relationships across races and systems, there must be something to be reconciled to.
There must be a prior equitable relationship and system to be reconciled to, and the truth of our city is that we cannot point to that place. We cannot point to a time in our city’s history that was fair and equitable for all. Because of the trappings of our past and the crushing impact of racism on our present-day relationships, we must be willing to do the hard work of transforming our relationships and our systems to be more equitable in serving all people.
Leaning into the discomfort and writing about race and racism, I know that I am possibly contributing to the unease that many feel when even bringing up the topic of race and racism. But why the discomfort, why the feeling of unease? The discomfort comes because many of us are unwilling to ask the hard questions or hear the even harder answers of how racism negatively impacts all aspects of our lives.
The discomfort comes from realizing that the trappings of racism are still present and impacting our daily lives. We must be willing to lean deeper into the conversations and more than the continuous dialogue, we must uproot the threads of racism that are woven into many of our societal structures that lead to disparate outcomes for many people of color.
Some of us are privileged enough to go through life and never be confronted with how real racism is in constructing barriers for some, while providing a head start for others. This is what makes the conversation around racism so difficult. The lack of understanding of the racist effects of a broken criminal justice system, education, employment, housing, healthcare, and economic system, makes it hard to empathize with someone who may not look like you or have your shared life experiences.
There’s an added layer of the conversation around race and racism that is even more difficult for most of us to discuss and that is how race is often incorrectly discussed in extremely binary ways. There are seemingly only two sides of the conversation. There’s an us and there’s a them. There is a discomfort talking about race even within minority communities that keeps us from understanding how our diverse shared histories and futures are all interconnected.
For the sake of not discussing race and not offending or bringing up wounds that have yet to heal, we generally have a few different ways we like to approach the conversation, we either act like we are a post racial society and that equality is out there for anyone who needs it and we vehemently stick to our argument that we don’t need to address the hurtful truth of our past or we try to ignore the problem altogether and make the race and racism conversation more about socioeconomics, education or anything other than calling the thing, the thing.
A lot of brave people have and are continuing to meet this hairy, messy, uncomfortable topic head on. This is the TRHT framework at its best. It seeks to tell the truth about our city’s history. And not just a one-sided truth, but the truth of all people. A history that includes our recognition of the land on which we enjoy such great prosperity today, began in the hands and the care of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
We continue in recognizing their hard work and labor as we pursue the process of telling the truth about our shared history here in Dallas, no matter how hard or ugly or hurtful that history may be. We build upon that historical truth, avenues for racial healing and relationship-building, all in our effort to transform systems, organizations, and individuals that build and contribute to the creation of a more just and equitable city.
Help us continue the hard work hard yet rewarding work. Lean into the discomfort of the conversation around race and racism and join the work that is striving to make our city better for all, and not just for some.
Joli Angel Robinson is the Manager for The Office of Community Affairs and the Youth Outreach Unit at the Dallas Police Department. Joli graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a Bachelors of Art and Science in Sociology and Communication and a graduate degree in Communications specializing in Organizational Communication Management. Joli volunteers at Roosevelt High School where she serves as the Chair of the Site-Based Decision Making Team and is the Co-Chair for the local Truth, Racial Healing, & Transformation efforts in Dallas. She is a 2019 Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.