Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dismissed: Ramblings on discussing racism in everyday life

In a private, face-to-face conversation about an article I had posted to Facebook regarding illegal immigration, I was told that I am overly sensitive to subjects with racial and/or cultural overtones. Once again, my opinion had been dismissed. This time, instead of backing down, I used his phrase to reinforce my point.

I told him that I doubt I will ever be “under-sensitive” again. I have learned too much about the relationships between direct, cultural and structural violence to be able to view the smallest slight with equanimity. I have followed too many news stories over too long a period to not see that irrational fear grows if it is not checked. I have listened to too many mothers tell the story of the first time their child – a person of color – learned that U.S. society views them as less valuable than white children.

Did I change my listener’s mind about the damage a third-grade worksheet could perpetrate on children in particular and society in general? Not that I could tell. But he did re-frame how he perceived the piece as a result of my reference to parenting. He fears for his daughter and the messages she will receive about herself regarding gender and ethnic heritage.

That’s enough for me. I don’t need you to agree with me. I simply want to be heard. I want you to consider another perspective, just as I consider other perspectives – including yours – before forming an opinion. This is, of course, easier to do in written form than face-to-face. When we’re sitting in front of one another, we feel a need (perhaps this a Western-culture thing) to respond quickly and, if possibly, pithily. Time to reflect is not valued.

My solution to this dilemma is to say, “I had not heard that/considered that before. I will look into it.” I have answered swiftly; I have acknowledged that I heard you; I have asked for time to reflect in a socially acceptable way. 

It’s not pithy, but I will gladly sacrifice wit for understanding.

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