Where Do We Begin?

Where Do We Begin? The question itself implies that “we” are on a journey. That there is a direction in which we are headed. This “place”, our ideal, is one in which hierarchies are not established based on the idea of race. In his book Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes… “the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible–this idea is the new idea at the heart of these new people which have been brought up tragically, hopelessly, deceitfully to believe they are white.” Coates challenges these hierarchies based on skin color and simultaneously challenges the notion of race. Yet it is this very notion that shapes how we interact with each other. It is this very notion that has shaped policy. It is this very notion that has created homogeneous neighborhoods and in so doing created homogeneous schools. It is this very notion that has determined how we organize our society. Race matters. If we look around we will see many of the environments we inhabit, such as our places of employment, our classrooms, our neighborhoods, which are filled with those who are most like us. So, where do we begin, if systemically we are shuttled into spaces which keep us separate? Where do we begin if we grew up in neighborhoods or went to schools in which there were few or no students who were different from us? Where do we begin if our classroom spaces have few or no students of color? Where do we begin, if we have never spoken to others who are categorized differently racially? If our goal, our destination, is to get to space where there are no hierarchies based on what Coates refers to as “hue and hair” then we begin as Coates does by deconstructing how racial categorization came into being. We begin by understanding what it is, how race functions, and its impact. But journeys involve traveling through other spaces, places that are not where we want to be but through which we must pass in order to arrive at our final destination- that place- that is our ideal. Where do we begin? The well-worn saying proves apt. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. We must begin somewhere. 

Victor Hugo wrote, “If a soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but, he who causes the darkness.”

Now What

  1. If your neighborhood is homogeneous, can you think of reasons why that is? Are there policies or practices that contribute to this? 
  2. Imagine yourself as the only one of your background in a classroom setting. How would this impact your ability to engage successfully as a student? 
  3. Are you scared of talking about race? Why do you think that is?
  4. Are you affected positively or negatively by the construction of race? Address ways in which others’ perception of race has impacted you. 


Coates, Ta-Nihisi. Between the World and Me. New York, Spiegel & Grau, 2015

Bennet, Juda, and & Brown Glaude, Winnefred et al. The Toni Morrison Book Club. Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 2020.

Smedley, Audrey, Takezawa, Yasuko I. and Wade, Peter. “Race”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 Jul. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/race-human. Accessed 4 February 2021.

The Scientific Debate Over “Race”

The Meaning of Race