Monday, June 11, 2012

Charles is Not Afraid to Talk About Race

Campaign Stops: Not Afraid to Talk about Race was just published today by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow.  I thought it would be of interest given the recent focus of my blog.  He discusses how race and political perceptions align and impact the vote.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Protective hesitation...Shall we talk about something else?

When Pat and I first decided to touch on this topic I was excited to explore issues of race and mentoring. Now that the time has come to put pen to paper all I can think is “ugh!”

Am I suffering from writer’s block… or is this some form of “protective hesitation?”

Thomas introduces the concept of protective hesitation as he outlines the challenges to effective mentoring. By his account (and mine!), it seems that the biggest challenge is that people just don’t know how to do it. Concerns about race make the difficult process of mentoring harder.

Mentoring—at its most effective—is both instructional and emotional. The author states, “purely instructional mentoring was not sufficient; protégés needed to feel connected to their mentors.”

Thomas highlights specific factors that make cross-race mentoring relationships more fragile and promote a phenomenon he calls “protective hesitation”.  But why is protective hesitation so damaging and what does this have to do about race? 

I suppose that having a racial identity is no different than having any other sort—whether based on national heritage, a common language, religion, gender, profession, family, sexuality (and the list goes on and on). As individuals, we all must resolve multiple identities both within ourselves and as we relate to others. Identifying with a certain culture means that certain assumptions are accepted and adhered to and we must all pick and choose the ones we hold most dear.

Race, although about more than skin color, rarely requires a verbal revelation to allow others to start making certain assumptions (whatever they may be). The color of one’s skin conveys complex cultures of expectation, expression, and attitude, but does the obvious nature of race make it harder to discover any nuance in its manifestation?

Moreover, challenging the assumptions and prejudices of others also means challenging the assumptions about yourself (and the cohort you identify with). Neither is particularly easy or fun and holds the real danger of being counterproductive.  

So perhaps protective hesitation has a constructive purpose…but how to build constructive mentoring relationships anyway? How do you address a mentee’s shortcomings without racializing or much less over-personalizing it? I guess that’s what makes mentoring so darned hard.

I’ve definitely been mentored far more than I have mentored. As I’ve grown (or at least as time has passed), I look harder for mentoring/advice regardless of who gives it. I’m also far more cognizant of being one of the “few” who either is Black, female, or under 50 in many of my professional circumstances. I try to change this by working hard to succeed. So, I’ll take kind advice where I can and treasure the insights of those friends and mentors with whom I particularly identify.

Still, this doesn’t mean that my professional life isn’t plagued by insecurities, awkward conversations, uncomfortable silences, and frequent irritations...but maybe I'm just insecure, awkward, nervous and irritable.

Honestly, I’d rather not talk about it.