We Need to Talk

By Rege Behe

Certain subjects have long been considered risky for polite conversation, including race, politics, money, sex and religion.
But Cora Daniels thinks it’s important for people to express their opinions, even if broaching such topics makes people uncomfortable.
“It’s not as hard as we think it’s going to be,” says Daniels, the co-author of “Impolite Conversations On Race, Politics Sex, Money, and Religion” (Atria Books). “Part of it is that we work ourselves up into being afraid to own up to our honest thoughts. It’s not an easy thing to do, to speak honest and openly. But there is a desire to do it. If there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be all this anonymous chatter on Twitter.”
Daniels will speak at 7 PM, Monday, March 23, at the Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland. Her appearance is free and open to the public.
Despite the book’s title, Daniels, who wrote the book with lifelong friend John L. Jackson Jr., the dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, isn’t advocating for coarser discourse. A journalist and writer who teaches journalism at New York University, Daniels merely wants people to be open to subjects and ideas that are shied away from in social settings.
“Because we’re not willing to come together and have a real dialogue on these issues, we never get to move forward,” she says. “We never get to move past the divided state that we’re in and change our thinking on these things and think more innovatively and creatively.”
The place to start, Daniels says, is at home. As a mother of children ages 6 and 9, she constantly tries engage them in conversations about important issues. But that’s only the start of the process.
“Whatever we’re wagging our finger upset about, what’s going on in society on a larger scale, we have to make sure it’s going on in our house first,” Daniels says. “In our block, in our neighborhood, in our community. Those are little steps, one by one.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to engaging in constructive and illuminating conversations is the lack of opportunities to do so. Daniels believes most people live segregated lives and don’t give themselves the opportunity to engage others of varying races or beliefs.

“If most of us really take an honest look at our social groups and the core relationships we have, we’re just not integrated,” she says.
Even though the next generation is expected to be more diverse, Daniels doesn’t expect race or gender issues to suddenly disappear. Nothing will change, she thinks, until people become open to expressing their feelings, especially about race.
“There’s this whole thing about the generation coming after us being the most diverse, but it’s not like race has just disappeared,” Daniels says. “They are still conscious of it and they still notice it, even down to my kids who are just in elementary school, where it’s still an issue and it still comes up. We have to acknowledge it and not ignore it. Even if we’re unhappy with our reaction at the moment, don’t hide from it, don’t ignore. Because our children notice it and then it becomes this weird, untouchable topic because none of the grown-ups are talking about it.”


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