“Race Bait” podcast co-hosts Paul Traynor and Tania Richard in conversation befor an audience at Victory Gardens Theater.Photo by Ned Schaub

“A Black woman. A White man. We talk about racism so YOU can, too!” is the slogan for the podcast “Race Bait,” a series of candid conversations about race between a black female and a white male. Evanston resident Tania Richard talked with the RoundTable about the success that she and her co-host, Paul Traynor of Wilmette, have had with “Race Bait” – and about taking their conversation to the next level in their upcoming third season, which began Sept. 6.

“Paul and I have always focused on navigating conversation with kindness, generosity and humor,” said Ms. Richard. We plan to continue that, but we’re also ready to challenge the level of comfort.” She explained that they didn’t know each other that well, but became friends and got to know each other through exploring their differences of experience and opinion.

Ms. Richard said, “There was a learning curve. How do you stay in the conversation and not check out when it starts to feel emotional, challenging or difficult? Through friendship we have gotten to a point of being able to get through more tense or difficult moments – and we realized that we were like-minded in our determination.”

Asked if she had ever had a similar experience with anyone, she said, “We tend to gravitate to or spend time with people with whom we don’t feel outside our comfort zone. I can’t say that I’ve had something like this before.” From the start they knew that they were making the podcasts not only to have the experience themselves and to share it, but also to model how to have conversations like theirs.

Expanding their repertoire they recently started working with various corporations. “We get the opportunity to go in and do our podcast. We have segments that are a great way to facilitate certain conversations,” said Ms. Richard. “The employees of a company get to consider at the same time that we’re considering a topic that we introduce and we model conversations that they can have.”

Ms. Richard said that she and Mr. Traynor are trying to bring change, to get people to stop avoiding important conversations and to stop being comfortable avoiding them. “A level of discomfort comes when you’re willing to have conversations around race . . . within a society that is mired in racism. I just feel so strongly that we need to confront . . . [the fact that] some people are not able to admit that there is systemic racism. This country has a tendency to deny or minimize the impact of things like – slavery. We have never, as a country, fully confronted that horror and there are communities that still don’t feel served by the American dream.”

Ms. Richard wrote a play called “The America Situation” about the creation of Evanston’s Fifth Ward and how members of the community were complicit in the segregation that it fostered. As an example she described how people’s houses were moved on flatbed trucks to the Fifth Ward, but also said that there were positive aspects of bringing the community together in one place. Her play considers positive elements that should be applauded, but also looks at the negative aspects of the intentional segregation. The play explores the ways in which people can be in denial, or just unaware or purposely unaware because the positive is what they want to present and the negative is what they want to hide.

“In my heart of hearts I believe it’s about looking within. Who’s in your circle of people? Who’s teaching your children? Who are you inviting into your home? . . . What is your own bias?” Ms. Richard said that asking these simple questions and thinking about your own life is where being a part of positive change begins and that the next step is “interrupting whiteness,” interrupting systems that maintain advantages for White people. “That can happen in conversations, in the school districts, the sports programs. Make sure that everyone is being served. If not, do something. Make sure that the people at the top are aware and accountable . . . Interrupting things around you is the hardest thing, it is so hard not to just make the person feel better.”

Ms. Richard said that micro-aggressions, things said along racial lines, are a part of every day. She said that they are used by people so that they can continue to feel above or dismiss or keep a person of color in their place because of what they say or how they behave. “Black people experience them on a regular basis . . .
collectively they are soul-crushing. You may not be overtly racist, but still using them . . . The more people realize that it is within their power to interrupt – that it’s something you can do every single day, the more things will change. Some of it is about risk and people are sometimes so afraid to go into it.”

Ms. Richard said that she and Mr. Traynor, who are both actors and writers, have never claimed to be experts, that they see themselves as artists connected to emotions. “What people hear and listen to is our reactions within the emotional context. You learn things that you can’t get from a book,” she said. “I do think that largely through our conversations we are holding up a mirror.”