The Rules By Kevin Hofmann Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion When my sons were little, we would sit in front of the TV each holding a video game controller. It was a great father and son moment… or so I thought. Once they grabbed the controller, we were no longer related. We were competitors! It was their chance to dominate their father, and they relished the opportunity. I must admit their competitiveness was transferred to them via DNA. I grew up constantly competing with siblings, friends, strangers… anyone who would play any kind of game. Our playfields were different. I played football outside on our lawn and the lawns of the adjacent neighbors. I played basketball in the backyard where the hoop was installed on top of the garage. The rim was not adjustable, portable, and nowhere near the right height. My opponents were kids from the neighborhood or school. My sons’ field was a 55” HD TV screen in a dark room with a controller that looked like it could launch nuclear weapons. Their opponents were connected through the internet, using wireless headphones with a microphone. Their opponents came from all over the world. After a short tutorial from my sons about which button does what and a very brief explanation of the rules, we hit start and the game began. We were playing a racing game called Mario Kart. In the game, the little characters drove small vehicles around a track. The goal was to be in first place after three laps. When my son was going over the buttons, he tried to point out the button for the car’s brake. I told him I didn’t need to know that button because I didn’t plan on using it – I would be full throttle the entire race. For the first lap my strategy was working: full speed ahead. I was in first place with room to spare. I was feeling good about myself. I thought I was a natural and made sure to let my son know how good I was by coating him in the most trash talk I could summon. The second lap was going well, and I began to anticipate the upcoming turns and negotiated them even better. First place was mine and my lead was growing. I dispensed another helping of trash talk as I began the third lap still in the first place. My muscle memory was firing and again I anticipated the left turn coming up and negotiated it better than A.J. Foyt or Dale Earnhardt. The finish line was close, so I eased off the gas to prevent a mistake. My lead was big enough that I could be cautious. I was also trying to see how I could turn my car around and flash across the finish line going backward. A move that would cement in my young child’s mind that Dad was the champ. As I approached the last turn and could see the checkered finish line, a flying turtle shell entered the screen and came right for my vehicle. The shell pushed my car off the track. As I tried to recover, everyone in the race passed me and I limped across the finish line in last place. My quiet son erupted in non-stop, no-mercy three minutes of trash talk. I very passionately asked where the turtle shell came from and he proudly said, “I shot you with it!” Again, very passionately, I asked why I wasn’t told about this aspect of the game. “I forgot Dad. Next time you will know.” He said with absolutely no remorse. I learned a few valuable lessons that day. To play the game, you must know all the rules. My son purposely withheld information from me knowing it would give him an advantage. I also learned not to trust my son when we are competing against each other. But that doesn’t mean I can’t trust him in other areas. Trust is foundational for any productive relationship. These two lessons have helped me whenever I conduct a conversation involving race and racism. A Sister stopped by my office last week and we had a great conversation. At the end of the conversation, she asked me a question that had been bothering her. “How do we talk about race with people of color without offending them?” The first rule is you can’t! Well, that’s how my son would explain the rule. The complete rule is, that you can’t have a very productive conversation on race with a person you are not in relationship with. If you are not in relationship, there is no desire to protect the relationship. If you don’t care to protect the relationship when the conversation gets difficult, the tongue has no incentive to be kind. This is why the conversations/arguments on social media with people you don’t know are futile. Debating with someone on the internet who doesn’t care about me on hot topics like race is tempting and dangerous. It is merely words without feelings on the internet, and feelings often get sacrificed when a stranger is telling you how wrong you are. Please do not have these deep conversations without first building a relationship with the person. The second rule is to be generous with grace. The subject of race is often chaperoned by a lot of emotions. Some are very comfortable talking about race, some aren’t comfortable talking about it all, and the rest are somewhere in between. Give the person next to you the grace to say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way. The third rule is simply listen. Everyone needs to be heard and validated. We all experience this world in different ways, and we can learn so much from each other if we take the time to listen. Most of the issues that come up with the conversation of race can be traced to this one issue. Truly listen as people share their experiences. Resist the urge to formulate an argument against how a person experiences something simply because you do not experience it the same way. The last rule is without trust, this doesn’t work. This is tough work at times. It requires us to be vulnerable in front of each other. It requires a safe place to do this. We must trust that forgiveness is possible, enlightenment is possible, and we can share space even if we don’t agree. This is an amazing opportunity for us all and I hope you will join me in this challenging journey. It is hard work, but the results that can come from putting in the work will feel better than beating your child at a video game.