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An honest conversation about race with Nanette Massey

Nanette Massey, wearing black, speaks at a microphone
Writer Nanette Massey

Thomas O’Neil-White: I'm here with writer Nanette Massey who is hosting a workshop Wednesday evening at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Nanette, walk us through the title of your workshop "Moving Beyond White Fragility," which is based off the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

Nanette Massey: So I call the workshop "Moving Beyond White Fragility: Honest and Effective Conversations About Race." Because like I said, a lot of white people are reading the Angelo's book. And I get into a lot of discussions online and in bookstores and such about this book, and why people are still having this discussions only among white people.

Thomas: Now, why is it important for white people to move out of their comfort zones when having these discussions on the topic of race?

Nanette: Well, the black experience is not uncomfortable isn't even the word. Let's put it this way. So say you've got 100%. Okay, there's 100% of discomfort and a white person and a black person are talking. And the black person is starting to say some things like, you know, white supremacy and privilege. And so the white person in the conversation is getting 5% uncomfortable and 10%, uncomfortable 15% uncomfortable, 20% uncomfortable, and now, he wants to change the conversation to the bills, how the bills did this weekend, okay? Okay, so there is still 100% of discomfort in this space, it's just expected that the black person is supposed to hold on to 80% of it. In order to maintain civility.

Thomas: What was an idea from the book that you incorporate into your workshop?

Nanette: One of the chapters in the books is titled white women's tears. And what she's talking about in that chapter is having white people keep the focus on non-white people in the conversation. So she also says in the book, that if she's in a cross racial setting, as a white person, She is the author as white as a white person, she will not cry, or she'll walk out of the room, so as to not detract attention from the non-white people.

Thomas: Now what’s the problem there?

Nanette: I would say, instead of white women getting up to walk out of the room, because you know, just that act draws attention to you, whatever reaction to what is happening, and what is being said, whether it's crying, or outrage or whatever, just do it in such a way that it adds to what is happening in the room, not in a way where, where it takes away and puts attention on yourself.

Thomas: What's the lasting message you would like to impart to our listeners about your workshop and breaking down barriers of communication?

Nanette: my ultimate message is that we are all we are all one as human beings, we are all one in the same. And what white people need to do is see their shared humanity in non-white people. When you realize, you know, a black person and a white person, you're just two mothers talking, that's something else altogether. You're just two comic book nerds talking. That's something else altogether. And when you connect on that level, when you connect on that level, what to do about whatever racism may show up in the space, you know what to do arises organically, I contend.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
Related Content
  • WBFO presents a five-part series on race relations -- bringing people together to talk about equity, white privilege, systemic racism and diversityInspired by the intimate style of NPR’s Story Corps, the discussions feature a Buffalo-area person of color in dialogue with someone who is white.Facilitated by WBFO reporter Thomas O’Neil White, the conversations feature people with different backgrounds but similar occupations or fields of interests. In addition to the short feature heard on-air and featured in each of the stories below , extended versions of the conversations are also available here.The Racial Equity Project is funded by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.If you'd like to participate in future conversations, email news@wbfo.org