I think I was in first grade when I first started to dread it. I almost think it was before that but memories prior to first grade and Ms. Lucas’s class are hazy at best. But I distinctly remember that moment because I knew I had done something wrong. She was such an awesome teacher that perfect combination of funny, kind and strict. She had the whole class wrapped around her finger and no one wanted to disappoint her least of all me. So when she asked me to stay in from recess “because we needed to have a talk”...a knot started to form in my chest the size of miss-iss-ippi” I just spelled it out... just the way I learned it that year...like a song...but I digress. To this day when someone in my life tells me “that we need to talk” whether it’s a partner, friend, boss or Co-worker it never ceases to put me in a mini space of spin...what did I do wrong...and more importantly how do I defend myself.
Right now our country is in the grips of a huge conversation. We are getting a “Talking To” on the state of race, injustice and inequality in our country. This talk at times feels like it is only chaotic and confrontational. Protestors and headlines shouting. Text messages and social media pages waging mental and verbal fights online. It’s hard to have real meaningful dialogue over the din. But it is time. Race...racism...systems of oppression and violence that have been perfected and practiced over centuries has caused a cauldron of anger to overturn scalding everyone in its wake. I believe that what we have been witnessing especially in the first few days after George Floyd’s murder was a moment of sheer anger rage and disbelief. I felt it myself as an African American Woman. As day after day I could not stop the flow of hot tears down my face. Yes this was one of those moments...past reason past understanding...guttural and messy this moment was pure in it’s definitive stance of DONE-NESS. Enough was enough. Straw meet the camel's back.
I feel it in those allies who have joined us understanding truly that we are all one. One Human Race on this planet and that we must raise our voices in protest knowing that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere- MLK
My deepest desire is for us to enter the talk on race in our country with courage. To understand that having a conversation about race, racism and injustice should not be taboo and something to be avoided at all cost. It is not the same as talking about politics and religion. We have been taught to avoid those at all cost, in order to maintain peace. Unlike those conversations that lean heavily on personal choice and beliefs and what feels right to you. Racism and injustice are Human rights issues.
Freedom and equality for all humans at their heart are not cerebral belief driven ideas. This in my opinion is what has caused so much confusion.
You either believe that All Humans are born equal and should be treated as such under laws that protect those rights or you believe that there are some people who are better than others by birth and they get to choose who gets what including freedom.
Therefore those that are “ born better” pass laws and create systems that marginalize and oppress based on whatever criteria they create...depth of melanin, sexual identity, genitalia or how much they like your religion.
The emotional intelligence to have conversations that speak up for the inherent right of equality should be fundamental to our wheelhouse of conversation just like learning to share, play nice, don't hit and bite and speaking up to the bully on the play yard is a normal conversation with children.
Silence about the bully only emboldens him we teach our kids. Teaching them to stand up for themselves is a paramount and basic conversation that we must have.
But we are not kids and adulting can be challenging as we learn to get along with each other on the larger playground of life. How to communicate with one another to talk and to listen is an art form. It takes both bravery and humility to do it well and huge doses of grown up-ness. I fail more times than makes me comfortable and yet I feel myself hitting my stride and communicating better and better each year. I have found a couple of pointers that all seem to lead me into the best headspace when it comes to hard conversations
Before I give my pointers ...let me say the people who are already unsure where their bed sheets belong are not the people to have conversations with. Save your breath and heart energy. Your conversations are best used to do what I call push the middle. These are the people who are actively confused. Notice I didn’t even say searching. Which is extra points and please by all means they are primed and ready to have insightful conversations. But even if people are standing on the sidelines scratching their heads if they are family or friends I invite you to engage with them. They are our middle, they are confused about what’s all the fuss and we are here for them.
#1 Start from humble beginnings. A way in might be…”I am definitely not an expert in this subject but my heart is telling me that I have to actively work to figure this thing out.
Then maybe say-- I know it’s a challenging subject but I just wanted to ask how do you feel about everything that is going on regarding race and equality in our country?
#2 Decide it is better to understand that to be understood.
This comes from Steven Covey and “The 7 habits of highly effective people”. I’m obsessed with him. What is the other person having a hard time understanding? Listening is active. What are they really saying? Are they just afraid of the unknown? Without getting defensive yourself sit for a moment and reflect back to them what they are communicating to you. I do this all of the time with my kids. Starting sentences with Sounds like...It feels like.
It sounds like this conversation of race really upsets you. It feels like you get really defensive when you speak about it...tell me more I want to understand you better.
#3 When you are dealing with defensiveness and people being concerned about what you see is the minor detail, you might say …
“Help me understand how the point you are making is valid. Especially with stakes as high as human life and the ability of all of our citizens to live in freedom” One of my favorite answers to the outrage over all of the looting…”I’m talking about life and death and you are talking about insurance policies and paint” help me understand you point and why it is valid in this moment.
#4Let the other know that they are being brave just to engage.
It takes a lot to stay in the game. After a hard exchange letting others know that we appreciate their willingness to speak about it really goes a long way to keep them thinking about what you said long after the conversation ends. You are in essence watering the seed.
#5 Even though we disagreed today there is still time to grow. I hope I continue to learn and I invite you to do the same. Here are a few people who have helped me… You can then text, email, write down sources or articles or blogs or whatever has helped you in your growth.
Remember to be gentle but firm with yourself as you do this work. The work of educating yourself and learning to converse easily about racism and how we can work together to fix it. Personally It’s taken me years of doing the work to understand how to stand up for myself in all the small ways before it gets so bad that I only have my screams to defend me.
So be encouraged. Even as the marching and chanting dies down. As we go back to our homes lets pledge to ourselves to make lasting changes to our thinking being and doing in our world.
I feel REAL Progress is in the air....do not become overwhelmed and do nothing. Become empowered and do... one thing.
Remember as you speak up and out It might not happen in the first conversation or the 20th but I do believe that this is the way we move forward towards breaking down a system of oppression and creating lasting change in our country one conversation at a time one book at a time, one podcast at a time, one documentary at a time, ...one vote at a time.
I thank you in advance for your bravery.