CRUE Discussion Guide: Jay Smooth on “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Discussing Race

In a recent TEDx Talk, “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Discussing Race,” Jay Smooth, New York City hip hop DJ and video blogger, discusses the value of conversations about race and the lessons he has learned from engaging in those conversations. In this discussion he builds on the ideas he introduced in a video he made in 2008, “How to Tell People they Sound Racist,” where he discussed the importance of focusing on what someone did or said in a particular instance instead of making broad assertions about who that person is in order to have more productive conversations about racism. In Smooth’s more recent video he acknowledges that even with the “What You Said” strategy, conversations about race are still challenging and often unproductive and links this struggle to problems inherent with the social constructions around race and racism and what it means to be a good person.  Smooth explains, “I think we need to move away from the premise that being a good person is a fixed, immutable characteristic, and shift towards seeing being good as a practice, and it is a practice that we carry out by engaging with our imperfections.”

After watching Smooth’s videos take some time to discuss the following questions:

  1. What problems have you run into trying to discuss race and racism in educational settings? How might Smooth’s recommendation to focus on what was said and done have helped in those situations?
  2. What thoughts and feelings do you have about “the dental hygiene approach of race discourse?” How could this approach impact your journey toward personal betterment and undoing internalized racism?
  3. Smooth points out,

    [T]here are persistent systemic and institutional issues around race that are not caused by conversation, and they can’t be entirely solved by conversation. You can’t talk them away, but we need people to work together and coordinate and communicate to find strategies to work on those systemic issues.

    How do you know when it’s time to move past having conversations and onto taking action?What steps do you want to take towards addressing institutional racism in your school or district?

Suggested Resources:

Story Corps Boston: Conversations About Race

Linda Darling-Hammond on Race, Identity, and the Importance of Discussion—Teaching Tolerance

Lesson Plans—Race Bridges for Schools

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