The Northwest Office of Diversity and Inclusion partnered with The Bridge to host three presentations from guest lecturers Alex and Angela Bryant, co-authors of “Let's Start Again: A Biracial Couple's View on Race, Racial Ignorance, and Racial Insensitivity,” at the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts Sept. 13.
The couple has been married 25 years and preaches civility and discussion as the means to combat racism. After the Bryants spoke at The Bridge in July, Rev. Chad Mayne reached out to Maryville City Manager Greg McDanel and Northwest Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion Justin Mallett about having the pair come back to address the city and University.
“We here in Maryville, as we begin to have more conversations related to race and issues of race and make Maryville, as a community, more inclusive, I think hearing living experiences and hearing stories like Alex and Angela’s is going to be very, very important for our development,” Mallett said while introducing the Bryants to the audience.
The first lecture was held exclusively for city and campus officials and police officers. Mayne said there were multiple city councilmen, department heads and police officers present. The next two lectures, at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., were for students and community members.
Junior Adrianna Holmes said it was unlike any racial discussion she had ever been a part of.
“It was an overall inclusive message,” Holmes said. “Rather than being targeting, which I feel sometimes topics about race can be, it was very, ‘We need to solve this together. It’s nobody’s fault, but we are all responsible for fixing it.’”
Alex Bryant began speaking his message on racial unrest with a video back in 2016, after several unarmed Black men across the country were killed by police officers and then several police officers were killed in Dallas as retribution.
He shared the video during their presentation, which consists of him holding up a series of cards as his family slowly gathers around him. The cards displayed statements like “It’s Dark vs Light not Black vs White” and “We are all Americans.”
“There are two sides. It’s not Black vs. white though; it’s not the people vs. police. It is darkness vs. light,” Angela Bryant said later in the presentation. “If we start to acknowledge people for who they are as individual people and realize it’s not an easy fight to fight, but it’s a one at a time situation, … we really can make a difference as we do that.”
The Bryants emphasized that people don’t need to pick a side, whether that’s concerning Black versus white, people versus police or Republicans versus Democrats. They said there’s good and bad on both sides, and discussion is the best way to find common ground. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was not of picking a side, but of unity, they said.
“We’re all to blame, because as a society, we moved away from civility,” Alex Bryant said.
Racism obviously exits, Alex Bryant said. However, through what they’ve experienced traveling and discussing this topic, the Bryants have come to believe that most people are not racist.
“Since we don’t think that the majority of people are racist, but yet we still have this problem, this obvious divide, we just started thinking about, ‘What is really going on here?’” Angela Bryant said.
The next portion of the Bryants’ talk focused on redefining racial vernacular to acknowledge when something is an instance of racism opposed to what they called “racial ignorance” and “racial insensitivity.”
“Not every interaction of racial tension is racism,” Alex Bryant said.
Racism, by their definition, would be intentionally demeaning or exerting power over another race. Racial ignorance, however, is when someone is unaware that what they said or did is offensive. An example was asking an overgeneralized question or assuming a group of Latino Americans are all Mexican. Other circumstances could be deemed racial insensitivity, such as unknowingly using an offensive term or grouping a whole demographic as one entity, like “the Blacks.”
“We believe that a majority of Americans are not racist. They want equality,” Alex Bryant said. “There are people, some extremists, who don’t, who are frustrated. But what we found is there are some issues … that we need to discuss, because in the middle of these discussions that are happening, we’re starting to think and perceive people are racist … and it’s causing division.”
Alex and Angela Bryant said the key to overcoming the racial tension is engaging in open dialogue, because it bridges the divide. To do so, people must get out of their comfort zone.
“We have this tendency to be intimidated by or afraid of things we are not familiar with, and for so long, … we’ve lived with these parallel tracks: Black people on this side, white people on this side, and that’s just how we do it here,” Angela Bryant said. “We’re all comfortable with that, but that’s not getting us to the right place.”
Angela Bryant compared the awkwardness of not knowing how to interact with another race with the awkwardness of navigating a conversation with someone you should know the name of but don’t, because we should know how to interact with one another regardless of race by this point.
Everyone wants to be known, they said. People must engage with one another in order to know them as an individual person, not just as a person of a certain race.
The Bryants ended the discussion with practical tips. Some steps included doing research, putting yourself in situations where you’re around people of other races and cultures, confronting people making offensive comments, keeping communication open and attending educational events.