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A Definition of 'Centering Race' that Truly Centers Race

Defining the term 'Centering Race' is a complex task, with no single conclusion that satisfies the critical analysis the term demands. The general consensus is that 'Centering Race' refers to deliberate actions taken to make race a primary focus in discussions, policies, political, and social actions related to the efforts to bring about a just and equitable society. This approach is underpinned by the belief that it is race, primarily anti-black racism, that is both foundational and pervasive in our society, and that its undoing is essential to achieving equity across all forms of oppression. This premise presupposes that by placing race at the forefront of our conversations and strategic actions, we can more effectively diagnose, and successfully address the inequities built into our systems and institutions. In practice, this looks like direct acknowledgment of race, the development of strategies deliberately aimed at addressing race-based marginalization, and the implementation of policies and programs that specifically target racial inequities.

While this approach is both sensible and admirable, it makes the grave error of assuming that within our society, we all share a common understanding of race. Race, the human construct strategically designed by individuals primarily concerned with wealth creation, is hardly something that can be intelligibly defined. Europeans had their own construct of race prior to those in the Americas, using it to reference membership within a familial group rather than what it eventually came to represent. If we are to 'Center Race,' we must first conduct a thorough analysis of our shared understanding of the term, a task more difficult than ever in American society.

I’m often struck, increasingly less surprised, by the impact that discussions about race have on people defined as White. It is an interesting paradigm wherein the very people who most benefit from that classification express extreme, sometimes condescending displeasure with having to define themselves within the social construct to which they have been assigned. This typically arises during my training sessions when I ask attendees to share their identities with fellow participants. My therapeutic training and experience have informed my understanding of the dynamic that unfolds - White people are especially uncomfortable defining their 'Whiteness.' In contrast, persons assigned to non-white categories demonstrate the ability to take the activity at face value, relishing in sharing not just their racial and ethnic backgrounds, but also their heritage and culture.

To center race is to engage purposefully with the construct within which we remain firmly entrenched. It is to acknowledge a lie as if it were a truth so that we can collectively begin the work of deconstruction. Equally important is the understanding of race as an experience encompassing history, biology, psychology, and socio-economics. Race is inextricably tied to slavery, and its mention evokes strong psychological and emotional responses at either end of the spectrum - anguish for the descendants of those brutalized during slavery and shame for those who either accept this part of their history or experience cognitive dissonance, signaling continued struggles with reconciling this truth.

Centering race makes a powerful case for reparations, social justice, and racial equity, but perhaps, an even stronger case for honest reflection, collective mourning, forgiveness, both within and without, and perhaps reconciliation. If I, as a Black man, were able to acknowledge my pain but envision the future, and if White people would begin to question the origins of their 'Whiteness,' we could truly center race - the Human Race!


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