I've learned a lot about respectful conversation in the last month, thanks primarily to the Women's March leadership team, and the wonderful Margaret Jacobsen. The first (and likely most important) step in community organizing is talking and listening. I knew that. What I didn't know was that we white folks are doing it wrong.
You've probably seen the fiery conversations on social media. A white privileged person makes a statement. A marginalized person challenges it. But they don't say, "Uh, excuse me, friend, I think you're mistaken in your assumptions here. Let's talk about this more deeply." They say, "Shut up, Bitch, you've got no idea what your talking about" (likely with more slang and a pissed-off tone).
White clueless bubble-living woman says, "Wow, that's inappropriate. I believe in conversation, but if you could avoid the name calling, we could work this out."
"Name calling, Becky? You think THAT's name-calling? You white cis women sit in your ivory towers, you've got no idea what oppression is. Don't you dare tell me how to talk."
At this point, we uninformed folk tend to wash our hands of that person. We block them or unfriend them or just choose not to look in that group anymore. They just don't get it. If they could learn to speak proper English and show proper respect ...
Bullshit. After oppressing the black community for our entire history, and continuing to allow oppression right before our eyes, after being apathetic to their plight because it doesn't touch us, we want THEM to learn? We think we can tell gay and trans people how they should talk to us, after the insults we've lobbed at them? Proper English and respectful conversation are fine for those of us who have had the luxury of communicating only that way. But we have to open our minds and allow emotionally-charged words and painful labels to be part of this conversation, or we can't possibly hear the pain, anger, resentment, indignation, and frustration that whole groups of our population are living with.
Sure, we want to know what it feels like to be different, to be oppressed, to suffer constant injustice. Just say it my way, just come into my orderly little white hetero mainstream world and behave like me -- then I can hear you.
It's time to toughen up, white friends, and be willing to hear what oppression feels like. These people have endured so much more than a few offensive names. Let's get over ourselves and really listen.
Margaret Jacobsen, my new hero, has started a real conversation group called "Let's Talk." If you'd like information about February's meeting, please send me a message. As Margaret says, "Let's get uncomfortable together."
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Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.