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Exploring Race in America

Is being conscious of one's own racism enough?

It’s a start; it’s necessary. It’s not sufficient by itself. If you don’t do at least that, you’re not going to get any further. Sometimes people read books about race and they say, “Oh, it’s just people of color complaining and they’re all self-righteous and they make it sound as if whites are just bad.” My goal is to explain, not complain. I confess I’ve done some of this stuff, too. In part because we can’t help it: if what you see on television and in the movies are always the same images over and over again, then of course you are going to think certain things when you encounter different people. It would be odd if you didn’t. Part of what I’m trying to do is confess. I’m not pointing a finger at others. I try to be clear that this isn’t just about white folks changing, it’s about society changing. We have to think more broadly and more deeply about these issues.

Taking action is really what we should be striving for. It’s good to talk about these things. I make a living reading, writing, thinking and talking, so I think these are all good things to do, but it’s not actually getting out there, rolling up your sleeves and doing something. It’s very important to do things too.

Interview conducted by Michelle Caswell, Asia Society.