The ever-articulate Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrine posted a web video this week of a recent talk he gave at Hampshire College on how to have difficult conversations about race.
I don’t know about you, but since I first saw Jay’s How To Tell People They’re Racist video back in 2008, his distinction between a conversation about someone being racist and someone saying something or doing something with racist implications has been an incredibly useful framework for engaging in difficult social justice discussions.
As he notes in the video below, the success rate for having the saying/doing vs. being conversations around race is pretty damn low (he estimates 10% in the blogosphere). In my own personal experience, it’s also extremely hard to have being/doing conversations around age, sex, sexuality, gender, size, disability, and class as well (folks could probably add more in a heartbeat!). No matter how much you frame the conversation as: “Interaction X wasn’t so cool because un-examined assumption D which you voiced, could we maybe revisit that?” what folks so often hear is: “OMG YOU ARE A BAD PERSON I WILL HATE YOU FOREVER.”
In this TEDx talk, Jay flips the coin and talks about how to be an engaged receiver of critique over ideas and actions in the social justice sphere. While he doesn’t get into details about how to get beyond hearing initial feedback to a more give-and-take conversation, I do think his basic tenants of how not to be an ass are damn good reminders to us all.
Via Ill Doctrine, where he promises a transcript and related links soon — so if you need/want either of those for access please check back.
My favorite insight from this talk?
In general, I think we need to move away from the premise that being a good person is a fixed, immutable characteristic and shift towards seeing being good as a practice, and it is a practice that we carry out by engaging with our imperfections … We are not good despite our imperfections, it is the connection we maintain with our imperfections that allows us to be good … being mindful of those personal and common imperfections is what allows us to be good to each other and be good to ourselves.
Again, here’s the distinction between being a good person and being good as a practice. Something we are actively responsible for practicing in our daily lives. Maybe it’s just Hanna’s influence, but I gotta say that sounds awfully Buddhist, awfully important, and awfully feasible.