Dialogue is how we reach understanding

June 26, 2013

not_listening_poster-re4a14689c99b44af8e89ecfa1f2c81fb_wvy_8byvr_512National (and individual) conversations about racism, homophobia and bigotry have amped up this week, starting with the Paula Deen deposition and on to the invalidation of a key part of the Voting Rights Act and, of course, the happy news that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (which bans the federal government from recognizing same sex marriage) is unconstitutional.  These conversations, taking place on editorial pages and social media, in living rooms and offices, at coffee shops and bars, are a good thing, I think, regardless of what side you’re one.

We must talk if we are to evolve as people and as a nation.

This morning, I was in a conversation about the Trayvon Martin case. I was saying that it was very hard to understand what really happened because there are two depictions of the young man: one that he was a nice young man and the other that he was a thug.  Who was he, really? We have no idea. And yet, we all weigh in as if we did. (Thank you, Nancy Grace..)

“Think about this,” someone said to me this morning.   “Many people who see three young black men in thug attire walking down the street are fearful.  But think of this:  an African-American couple are walking down the street and in the other direction come three white men with buzz cuts and cigarette packs rolled up in their sleeves. How would the black couple feel?”

Yes, the same way. The scenario hadn’t occurred to me.

And that’s one of the problems. Because discussions about these issues are loaded and rarely had, we rarely progress our level of understanding.

This  morning, on my neighborhood elist, the mother of a gay son celebrated the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA. Another neighbor posted, in response:  “You should read your Bible, lady!”

Which led to more neighbors rallying around the original poster.

The online discussion, if you can call it that, was difficult.  But necessary.  It was also a bit contentious, at least among some posters, and that’s the problem. We must talk and we must seek to understand, rather than be so quick to take offense.

Sometimes, when opportunities to have these discussions arise, we refuse to.  It happened to me this morning on Facebook.

Here’s what I posted:

Freedom lovers everywhere have got to love the defeat of DOMA … Even as we’re reminded of lingering Southern bigotry this week, we celebrate another victory for civil rights. 

By lingering Southern bigotry, I was, of course, referring to the Paula Deen case.

Immediately, a woman I don’t know responded by posting something like “What do you mean, Southern bigotry? I’m Southern and I’m not a bigot.”

I posted: Please look again. I didn’t say you were, nor did I say all Southerners were. I was referring to the Paula Deen case and the South, where I lived for 24 years.”  I also sent her a similar FB message. Here is the conversation:

ME:  Please know that my comment was not an indictment of the South, just an acknowledgment of lingering cultural attitudes in some sectors. If we do not face the truth we can never combat it. I mean no offense to you. 

HER:   Still doesn’t excuse what you said. Bigots abound everywhere not just in “some sectors”.  PS I do not wish to continue this conversation with you, I don’t even know who you are or anything about you. I wish no ill will and I’m not interested in arguing. I wish you a nice summer!

Simultaneously, I had responded: That’s a true statement about bigotry and at the same time I was referring to something very specific to the south with no offense meant and no blanket statement about all Southerners… If we cannot discuss these things they will never go away.

The conversation has ended, but my thoughts about it haven’t.

Here’s what Paula Deen is accused of saying:

“Well what I would really like is a bunch of little n—-s to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around.” Paula Deen laughed and said “Now that would be a true southern wedding, wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.”

I’m a native Northeasterner and I can say for sure that as much as we might have been entertained by Gone with the Wind, this kind of wedding is not in our cultural framework.

It is, however, in the cultural framework of the Old South. And while that statement might not meet the dictionary definition of bigotry, it’s certainly a big clue to how the person who said it might feel about race. So, I think I was on pretty solid ground to say “lingering Southern bigotry.” Maybe I should have said “racism” or used some euphemism.  But that’s not the bigger issue.

The bigger issue has to do with the value of talking these things through. Of seeking to understand where the other person is coming from. And not shutting down dialogue about homophobia, racism or bigotry if someone is willing to have it.

The Facebook conversation is over, but the elist conversation about DOMA continues. One of my favorite responses to the guy who told the mom with a gay son to read her Bible was this one:

And some of us Christians are thrilled with the defeat of DOMA and this step in the right direction for civil rights! 

Yes, indeed. Dialogue.  It’s how we reach understanding.

I’m a fan of it.

Just needed to say that today.  Thanks for listening. And if you want to establish dialogue in the Comments section, I’m in!


5 comments on “Dialogue is how we reach understanding
  1. The news this week has been echoing with the book I’m reading this week for book club: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. We’re a book club that focuses on race in America. We’ve been meeting for 5 years and this is the single most important book we’ve read yet, I think. I can’t wait for our discussion tomorrow night. I’ve been impressed with how much easier it is to have a discussion about a difficult topic when use a book as a starting point.

  2. Patricia says:

    Although this lady said she did not want to talk she actually reached out to you. I think people do not know how to disagree. Coming from a big family it was part of the daily plan.

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