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The Race Project invites Miami Valley residents to talk about their life experiences through the prism of skin color. The conversations are honest, frank yet civil.

The Race Project: 'I want you to see race. I want you to see who I am.'

black and white faces looking in opposite directions with the words 'the race project' over the graphic

The WYSO Race Project invites two everyday people from the Miami Valley to talk about their life experiences through the prism of skin color.

On this week’s episode, we have a conversation with Andrew Strombeck and Matthew Chaney, who both work at Wright State University.

Chaney: My name is Matthew Chaney, Dr. Matthew Chaney. I'm a Black man, born and raised in Flint, Michigan. Certainly, first-generation college student. In my entire career, I've been in higher education, spent 27 years at Ferris State University in Michigan. And I've been at Wright State University as the vice president for inclusive excellence for two years and four months.

Strombeck:  My name is Drew Strombeck. I guess I'm also Dr. Drew Strombeck. I am a white man. I have been a professor at Wright State since 2007. I teach in the English department, and I teach mostly 20th and 21st century American literature.

So, Matthew, have you ever experienced discrimination for your race?

Chaney: Yes. Before I went off to college, I worked at a local family owned plumbing and heating company. I worked there, and I was the only Black person to work in this family owned business. And I was coming back from lunch, punching in on the time clock, it was a gentleman, a Black man that was a regular in our parts department.

I guess he owned a lot of rental property, and he was leaving, and he was a very dark complected Black man. And so the owner of the company said, “Hey, Matt.” He said, “Did you see how dark he was, how dark complected he was?” He said, “Did you see his hands?” I said, No.” And he said, “See, look at your hands.” He said, “His hands and your hands.” He said, “You both have monkey hands.” He said, “Look at my hands.” And he held his hands out. He was an older, white man. And he said, “Look at my hands, my hands. I don't have monkey hands.” He was from Tennessee. And he said, “Yeah, I remember when I used to play with the little colored kids in my neighborhood, and they used to come outside, and they had monkey hands.” And he said, “They had tails, and they used to have to tie their tails down on their pant leg before they could come out and play.”

And I remember we had a lady, a middle-aged lady. She was our dispatcher. I remembered gazing over at her. Her name was Alice. And I saw the tears just pouring down her eyes. She was just beet red and looked like she was about to pass out. So that was my first experience with discrimination and racism.

So, Drew, what's something you wish more white people talked about as it relates to race or race relations?

Strombeck:  I think that a lot of well-meaning liberal white people believe that they don't have a racist bone in their body. They would make the argument that, well, I'm educated on this, I understand these things, that they have eradicated it in themselves because it's something we can choose to talk about or not talk about, right? We don't, we don't live it.

Chaney: And I think the biggest thing that maybe liberal whites say, when they're having a conversation on race is that I don't see color. I think many mean well when they say that.

Strombeck: Yeah.

Chaney: But, you know, they're not thinking about the context of, well, I want you to see race. I want you to see me. I want you to see who I am. I'm a Black man. I'm a proud Black man. And see me for my fullness and who I am.

Strombeck:  I never thought about it quite that way. I mean, I think that, yes, if I say "I don't see color," I'm sort of denying who you are.

Chaney: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. We talk about so many different variations of diversity, but we still haven't adequately dealt with race. The elephant in the room is race.

Strombeck:  See, I feel like it's sort of weird and also hard to like, earlier I was like, well, I don't know that I wanted to ask you about a time that you've experienced discrimination because something feels like I'm, yeah, that I'm this voyeur or that I'm like, that I'm, I'm almost profiting off of your pain.

Chaney:  I want you to ask me about my experiences with race.

Strombeck: Yeah.

Chaney:  You know, so that I can share my thoughts and my experiences. I'm never asked from a white person about my experience, my personal experiences with race, and how I've been discriminated against. It was almost liberating for me to share that with you, because I've been trying to share it, and I haven't really shared it publicly before.

Strombeck: I appreciate the ability to drop some of those barriers and be able to just talk.

Chaney:  Absolutely. Thank you to you, Drew. And I think we've made the world just a little bit better through this authentic conversation. So thank you all so very much.

That was Matthew Chaney speaking with Andrew Strombeck on the WYSO Race Project. It was produced by David Seitz at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. The music in that piece is by the local band Nine-Three-Seven.

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David Seitz learned his audio writing skills in the third Community Voices class. Since then he has produced many stories on music, theater, dance, and visual art for Cultural Couch. Some of these stories have won awards from the Public Media Journalists Association and the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors. He is deeply grateful that most of his stories address social justice issues in a variety of art forms, whether it be trans gender singing, the musical story of activist Bayard Rustin, or men performing Hamilton in prison.
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