“You may think of race as just one facet of ‘who they are,’ but that facet doesn’t mean they inherently know the ‘collectivity’! I went to a dinner party where a young white woman who seemed to be an admirer of my work wanted to sit next to me…but immediately she said, ‘I’m having problems with my black woman roommate, and I just wanted to know if you could tell me why she’s behaving this way?’ I replied, ‘You know – if you wanted to know about Buddhism, would you grab the first Buddhist priest you met and say, ‘Really tell me all about it in the space of a half hour’?’
I think that often, when it comes to race or meaning across difference, people just lose their rational capacity to know how to approach something – I think a lot of white people give up their power of knowing. As soon as I said that to this young woman, she knew she should learn more about black culture and black history herself- not think she should go to some other black person to solve this problem. I asked her, ‘Why would I understand this situation better than you, when you’re in it?’ But on her part there was this whole sense of: ‘As a white woman, I couldn’t possibly understand what a black woman is going through,’ when in fact (as Thich Nhat Hanh says) understanding comes through our capacity to empty out the self and identify with that person whom we normally make the Other. In other words, the moment we are willing to give up our own ego and draw in the being and presence of someone else, we’re no longer ‘Other-ing’ them, because we are saying there’s no space they inhabit that cannot be a space we can connect with.
I think it’s interesting that often when difference is there (like a racial difference or something), people panic and do crazy, bizarre things…or say crazy, stupid things.”
— bell hooks