Let’s imagine you were hosting a great dinner party — a mixed group of engaging people having all types of lively talk around the table.

 

Now let’s imagine you toss out this question as a topic for conversation:

“Do white people have it easier in America than minorities?”

Or this one:

“When someone says something about race that offends you, do you let him or her know?”

Or this one:

“Do you have biases?”

Or this one:

“Do you think racism is a learned behavior?”

Would you be surprised to discover that your room full of bubbly, dinner guests had suddenly become one shrouded in awkward silence?

Or to see dinner guests gazing down at the napkins in their laps — and shifting uneasily in their chairs?

Or even to hear some guests say that, gosh, it had slipped their minds that they needed to get up early in the morning — so they had better call it a night and leave?

No, you likely wouldn’t be surprised at all.

And it’s why you probably would never — ever — raise such tough questions about racial issues, relations and perceptions during a lively dinner party you’re hosting.

THESE CONVERSATIONS MUST TAKE PLACE

But make no mistake:

These are uncomfortable conversations that we do need to have — somewhere — in our community.

They need to be conversations that our citizens have on a consistent basis.

And they need to be conversations that produce an honest dialogue, not a wary hush.

It’s a task that 904ward — a diverse group of civic-minded people from across the city’s public, private and nonprofit communities who seek to foster inclusivity in Jacksonville and help all citizens understand each other better — has taken on in an innovative, provocative and, yes, fun way.

Tonight, 904ward is hosting an event from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Jessie Ball duPont Center called “Play the Race Card.”

Participants in the free event will be invited to get together in small groups around tables and have genuine discussions about race in our city and country.

And they will do it by “playing the race card.”

No, really.

They will.

Because the conversations will be fueled by a deck of “race cards” placed on each table. Each of the 52 cards in each deck will pose a question about race (including the questions raised earlier in this editorial).

The concept behind the “race cards” — which look fabulous and were specifically created for 904ward by Brunet-Garcia, a Jacksonville advertising firm — is a pretty brilliant one.

OWNING THE PHRASE “PLAYING THE RACE CARD”

That’s because it takes an overused phrase that’s often wielded as a wooden club to beat down any straight talk about racial issues — the sneering accusation of “playing the race card” — and turns it into an olive branch that invites us to have those talks in a straightforward way.

It takes a tired trope that is intended to make us feel terrified to talk about race and turns it into a productive phrase that we can bravely take ownership of — and openly embrace.

“The cards are a tool that we hope will precipitate people to have the conversation … to listen to each other,” said Maira Martelo, community mobilization director for the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and one of several 904ward members interviewed by a Times-Union Editorial Board member about “Play the Race Card.”

It’s an apt appraisal.

Because if we are to build a better Jacksonville that truly celebrates all of us who live in it, we must pick up more of the tools that promote talking about race (like openness and civility) — and put down all of the weapons that stifle that conversation (like reticence and antagonistic claims of “playing the race card”).

It can’t help but lead to a greater Jacksonville.

And it sure would help to keep a lot of great dinner parties in our city from suddenly turning into bad ones.