Propensity to engage in interracial dialogue on race: A descriptive study of participants and contributing factors
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- approximating experiences; empathy; interracial contact; moral development; race obsession-avoidance paradox; racial identity development; racism; social interest; study circles
This hermeneutic inquiry examines factors that contribute to the self-selection of participants in interracial dialogue on race and the implications of the findings. This study was conducted within the socio-cultural context of race relations in the United States where the problem of racism has defined the national character, has arguably been the most divisive force in the country's consciousness, and remains its central social problem. Throughout U.S. history, a great deal of national energy has been generated and invested in racially influenced movements followed by efforts to make amends for such movements (e.g., slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement). This study has described American race relations as being characterized by a race obsession-avoidance paradox. This construct captures the dichotomy between the United States' cultural preoccupation with race and the simultaneous reluctance to discuss, frankly and openly, race and racism interracially. The paradox is manifested and perpetuated in the fields of education and professional counseling. Addressing racial issues is critical to educational and therapeutic processes, however, race is typically not addressed by teachers, counselor educators, and therapists due to their discomfort with racial issues. Other factors that compose the socio-cultural context for this inquiry are the changing demographics in the United States, the global economy, and the 'multiculturalization' of the country. All of these factors make interracial dialogue a critical workplace competence and economic necessity. Scholars on race agree that discussion of race is the key to racial healing and is critical to reducing racial prejudice. The intention of this study, then, was to investigate factors that encourage interracial dialogue on race by interviewing twenty purposefully selected individuals who participated in interracial dialogue on race, despite the cultural tendency toward avoidance. Themes that emerged from the data included early curiosity and experience with racism, interracial contact, focus on education, self-reflection, approximating experiences, high levels of empathy, moral and racial identity development and social interest. Implications extrapolated from the findings suggest the potential for intentional educational experiences to have significant impact on attitudes regarding race relations. Recommendations for further study include investigation of the relationship between the themes.