Can We Have a REAL Conversation about Race?

Everyone can do their part to raise awareness of and help eradicate racism, as well as lift up organizations and individuals working to make our communities more equitable. Here are a few tips and resources to get started:

Check up. Pay attention to your thoughts, fears, biases, and body language when dealing with people of color. Hold yourself accountable for changing racist behaviors.

Speak up. Do you hear hate speech or see someone being treated badly? Say something. Be an example of compassion and kindness, and others will follow.

Read up. Broaden your knowledge about race issues, and those working every day to change perceptions and break down centuries of oppression and hatred. Seek out leaders of color, and follow them on social media. Get woke.

Step up. Seek out and support organizations that merge together youth from various racial and economic backgrounds to teach and increase racial/cultural competency.

Follow up. Show solidarity and learn more about life from the perspective of people of color by volunteering and working with local nonprofits/groups in communities of color.

These are just a few wonderful local organizations to check out and support: 

Man 2 Man Urban Youth Advocate: is a collection of recovery, intervention, and educational programs for men who are delivered by men. Man 2 Man – UYA mentors young adult men of all ethnicities between the ages of 10 and 24. The program provides life skills that will help and enhance personal development.

Love Lives in Marin: is an initiative of Marin Interfaith Council (MIC) and was inspired by a visit to Whitefish, Montana, the home of  Love Lives Here, a Montana non-profit organization committed to co-creating a caring, open, accepting and diverse community, free from discrimination and dedicated to equal treatment for all citizens.

Youth Leadership Institute: YLI builds communities where young people and their adult allies come together to create positive social change.

Opening the World: Empower and expose at-risk young adults or transitional age youth (18-25) to a world outside of their own through volunteer and cultural experiences in their community and abroad.

Canal Alliance: is a nonprofit champion of immigrants who are challenged by a lack of resources and an unfamiliar environment.

ACLU Northern California (Facebook): is an enduring guardian of justice, fairness, equality, and freedom, working to protect and advance civil liberties for all Californians.

This is just a sampling. Numerous resources are available in Marin, the Bay Area, and nationally, and we hope you’re inspired to continue to seek out these resources on your own, to share them with family, friends, and colleagues, and to take a more active stand against hate.


Click on the + to expand the answers.

What practices have you witnessed white folks put into place with the intention of disrupting racism? Which has had the greatest impact?

Racism is a systemic and pervasive phenomenon. So, there are two things to consider. First don’t be overwhelmed to the point of complacency. The enemy of the good is the search for the perfect. The second is that impact should be measured by one or two things changing
in relationships or changing in practices.

In a church setting there are three interventions that I have seen to have relationship impact:

1.  Youth group exchanges and joint projects between youth groups. Kids naturally work together because they go to school together. One of the most effective projects I have seen is a joint theater project based around parables and oral histories. The two groups did a combined performance based on their interviews with elderly people in their congregations. The churches that did this are still yoked in
ministry today. They also found other positive ways to work together.

2.  There is the tried and true adult dialogue. But this can be done very badly or it can be powerful. When it is done well, listening is as much a part of the dialogue as is talking. The fish bowl exercises are very effective. There have been some real paradigm shifts in these conversations. This only works when there are shared values (this works in community centers and in all faith traditions).

3. In changing policies there are many examples. Historically, the entire Civil Rights movement was an example of what can be done when political power is wed to community relations. In that vein, it is really important to revisit the ideas and practices of Saul Alinsky and Martin Luther King’s “Where do We Go From Here.” Another good reading is called “Emergent Strategy” by Adrienne Maree Brown.

What is the "smallest" first step that white people or people of color can do to make a difference?

I believe the strongest and most important step we can take is to continue to talk openly about tough issues.  On my meeting desk, I have the Can We Have A Real Conversation About Race program out where everyone who comes in my office sees it.  You would be surprised to see how many people pick it up and ask about it.  That program is an opportunity for me to start a real conversation. If you kept your program from this evening’s event, put it out for people to see.

“Love Lives in Marin,” an initiative by Marin Interfaith Council led by SFTS student Ashley Reid, has a number of simple but powerful things you can do to take the first step. Their vision states: “Love Lives in Marin nurtures a positive, welcoming environment in Marin, and cultivates a culture of love throughout the county that reshapes our public discourse.”

How about inviting someone of color out to coffee to hear their story?  Pay attention to your body language when you walk down the street—are you relaxed and open, or do you stiffly hurry by people of color?  Most of this is just becoming more aware of your own implicit bias.  You can find helpful ideas and dialogue at

Given that race and racism exist so that some can be hurt, especially for the benefit of another group, will that group ever willingly give up their power and advantage over the hurt group? Does anyone (group) give up power & privilege willingly?

I don’t believe any group in power would willingly give up its power. There may be individuals in the group who may be able to see the beauty of what could be accomplished by the release of that power, but I am afraid the group as a whole would squash those efforts.  That, unfortunately, is our sinful nature.  I believe this stems from fear. That said, I believe groups in power only change when they feel like they have a chance to lose their power; then they wish to compromise. This is sad, but it is played out in all situations of power, not just in dealing with race.

The question about power in this case is, are you really giving something up when you lift others up? Don’t all boats rise together?

Why do you feel like racism has digressed in the last few years? Or, is it just surfacing more?

Racism has been present in the formation of America, and will never be eradicated as long as the social construct of whiteness is so inextricably tied to power. The implosion of the myth of “colorblindness” surfaced when the veil of political correctness shattered in the fears escalated by the election of the first African American President of the United States. Pew and PRRI research conducted in 2011, and updated in 2018, confirm whites’ greatest fears are the loss of power and privilege. These same fears fuel the immigration abuses underway with the byline of controlling the changing US population, which census projections said would place whites in the minority percentages by 2020-2030. Hence, even census rules are changing, along with the erosion of access and economic parameters.

We hear the "N" word used among blacks in music, social media, movies, etc. Why is it only offensive when said by whites?

First, the word “nigger” is a despicable term intended to be a deplorable pejorative label that does not belong in the pantheon of descriptivism about any human being. Therefore, since it was created by whites to demean people identified of African descent, the term should not be used, under any circumstance, by whites (of any ethical consciousness) for any reason.

Second, the use of a term in the generation of African American citizens who still have direct memory of themselves or family elders being subjected to the violence of supremacy that was legalized in Jim Crow segregationist laws and abuses, the N-word still is hostilely insulting. The usage is resisted as even a casual exchange between fellow African Americans; therefore, the reactions tend to be dissatisfaction, disappointment, and debate with younger generations of African Americans over their usage—whether or not intended as a counter-cultural or counter-narrative to the racist intentions of such labeling.

Third, for young generations, particularly the cross-generational sector of hip-hop artistically-associated Gen-Xers and Millennials, the use of the term in spoken word and music has been approached differently, perhaps without the associated memory of labeling as a mode of castigation—but more so, younger generations use as a recognition of mutuality in the struggle against personhood and in defiance of the white origins. In any event, young and old would reject its use in reference to them from strangers or from others outside the race.

That said, in the present volatile times, young African American generations are not naïve to the realities of being confronted by, and continually subjected to, dangerous, targeted modes of racism with use of the N-word as an explicative to describe them—such as in hostile encounters by police who derogatorily refer to young black males, but never use the same way of reference to young white males who cross the law.

In summary, it is important to understand that how the N-word, when used between young blacks, is in itself an act of resisting the pejorative hegemonic intention. Still, the usage in hip-hop lyrics, spoken word, movies or other popular entertainment does not make the N-word either an acceptable or decent labeling, even by or among a cultural group that still hears the term used by racist teachers, unscrupulous police, and hate-spewing nationalists. Sadly, as commonly reported in the news media today, the term is not dead—yet it should be.

What practices have you witnessed that white folks put into place with the intention of disrupting racism? Which has had the greatest impact?

Honestly, I cannot speak to how effective practices are between white peers.  I always recommend group dialogue for deep discussion on difficult topics because casual chat between two friends is not accountability. Tough dialogue is what I’ve actually witnessed among white peers in mixed groups. I am appreciative of the courage that my European-descent clergy colleagues and justice activists have exercised to write articles, books, and social commentaries in national periodicals to speak directly to the fallacies of ignoring their own white privilege, white fear and bias, and the danger of silence or indifference.  In other words, rather than denying the real one-sided constructs of this nation, they persist in asking how can we be and do differently with authenticity?

Interactively, when a person is being unjustly targeted, I would hope there is an inner spark of resonance in recognition of the pain and embarrassment that the person of color is unjustly enduring as you observe, or worse, at your cause. An airline passenger who calls flight attendants, and then airport police arrive upon landing, because a white woman accuses another’s arm was too close to hers in the shared armrest of claustrophobic airline seats—really? Seriously, especially if one’s ethical sensibilities stem from a precept of “do unto others as you would want others to do unto you.” I have found hope in truly kind people who have helped or assisted me in need, such as someone white speaking up in defense of a person of color if only to attempt to calm the white aggressor by being a witness to the innocence or basic rights of the individual person of color.

This is why the Starbucks incident in Philadelphia was so troubling to me. All photos showed a fairly crowded Starbucks who saw the two young black gentlemen walk in, yet only one white female spoke up and filmed the arrest.  No one raised a challenge to the manager’s assertions by saying they did nothing wrong until after the newspapers arrived. Yet, that one film by one courageous white woman who said she had a conscience, may have saved their lives and enabled them to have a case overturned. There are glimmers of hope.

In predominantly white Marin County, the issue and topic of race and equality can often miss the mark. On Wednesday, April 18, 2018, Stewart Perrilliat, San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the Students of the African Diaspora (StAD) convened a panel to educate and enlighten Marin’s community on the issue of racism and equality. Moderator and panelists spoke frankly about their own experiences as people of color, and explored ways to learn how we can embrace each other regardless of color, economic status. A one-hour panel discussion was followed by a Q&A session open to the audience.


Rev. Perrilliat is the founder of Man2Man-Urban Youth Advocate, SFTS MATS (Master of Arts in Theological Studies) alumnus, and a current DMin (Doctor of Ministry) student. Man2Man holds classes and group mentoring sessions for young men recruited through word of mouth and various organizations, or sometimes mandated through the courts to study anger management. It also produces a talk show to address issues of concern to them, which airs on a local cable channel, called Can we have a conversation? In addition to running Man2Man’s successful programs, Rev. Perrilliat also visits San Quentin State Prison, doing prison ministry and is working on a documentary called “There Are Not Many Fathers,” about fathers being more engaged with their sons. His goal is to help young men become positive, involved fathers, thus solving the greater rates of incarceration, domestic violence, low self-esteem, drug addiction, alcoholism, teenage parenthood and other issues that stem from absentee fathers.