Shut Up and Listen

shut-upResponding to anger can be difficult. Generally the best response is to listen, ask questions, learn, empathize, and find points of agreement. Unsolicited advice is rarely appreciated, as I’m still learning.

That’s especially true if you are White and the other is African-American. Let’s face it. In this country, race matters. Persistent oppression and White assumptions of superiority charge the atmosphere.

In “It’s Not About Race!, John Metta reported:

Sometime later, a man said that he hoped we could “rise above emotions.” He wanted an “intellectual discussion” using logic so we could “really get to heart of the matter” without getting “derailed by emotions.”

Metta places this issue within an understanding of cultural differences:

Culture is why some humans eat with a fork, and some eat with chopsticks. Culture explains why someone standing really close while they talk to you might feel threatening to a European, but comforting to a West African. Culture defines what acceptable volumes are when speaking, and how women are expected to act in social situations.

White people have prejudices about people of color because American culture has normalized whiteness, but the fact that people of color act “differently” further entrenches the “obvious correctness” of a white cultural norm….

We live in a Western European society that was built by Western Europeans for Western Europeans to live in….

Black people talk too loud, they don’t do what they’re told, they “act out,” they stand too close, they have weird hair, they dress funny, they shake their butts too much (which is fine if Taylor Swift does it)….

Why do we need to center a discussion about racism in the white cultural experience? Why do we need to communicate using Western cultural norms? So, we can talk about race, but we shouldn’t talk about race the way a Black person carrying West African culture would talk about it? We should avoid their anger and pain? It would be “better” to talk about it in a way that Western Europeans will be comfortable talking about it?…

Every single thing white people do and say is done in the context of normative white culture, which they don’t have to think about….

So either we get angry, or we just close our eyes, nod our heads, and say things like “Yeah, using the Socratic method to talk intellectually would probably be a good way for us to discuss systematic racism.”

My White tendency toward a cool, calm, collected, linear, logical, Western style of discourse is often a problem. It took me years to get in touch with my emotions and I’m still slow to do so. That’s who I am and I accept myself.

Still, I tell myself that rather than trying to persuade others to change, we who are committed to nonviolence in word and deed need to do a better job of practising what we preach.

Then perhaps we can help organize strong communities that will have a real impact.

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