Hello, White People! I hope you have been practicing diligently! Today we finally get around to something you’ve been wanting to do for so long, I know: TALKING.
White people love to talk at people–but they are definitely at a disadvantage when they are attempting to sustain meaningful conversation with People of Color, due to not being able to shut up; this is in addition to their congenital disability concerning listening, which we touched on in the last exercise. This three-step exercise should help you as a WP to oil the wheels of conversations with POC in a spectacular and surprising way; you may even really communicate with each other.
1. Wait for an answer. Stop after you ask any question, and count to ten as you wait. This is especially good if you find that a) you frequently ask rhetorical questions, not real questions, and/or b) you get half-hearted or no responses when you talk. This is because waiting till you count to ten will elicit a real response from your interlocutor, often in less time than it takes for you to finish counting to ten.
2. Don’t correct your interlocutor! Listen to the answer you get and allow it to hang there unrefuted and unchallenged for a while. Think about it. Squelch that impulse inside you that says, “They misunderstood my point!” or “They just said something that makes no sense!” Remind yourself that the problem could be your understanding, not theirs. It’s literally amazing how many times this does turn out to be the case for WP talking with POC (not to mention men talking with women, but that’s a different blog).
3. When you are telling your story, be aware that it’s only your story. This part of the exercise is hard for WP because we all think we can speak for everybody we know. Don’t non-apologize: “Hey, I know I’m just one person, but I really think everybody in their right minds agrees that…” Just don’t do that! Stay literally, painfully open to the possibility that your interlocutor may disagree even with what you think is basic human instinct, or sheer logic.
Post-script: When your story is over, stop talking. This is actually probably the hardest thing to do ever, so practice in the mirror first.
Have fun, and write back about how your conversations are going when you use these practice steps! We all want to hear! Ciao for now.
Hey, WP! Glad you could make it back! Today we’re going to do some exercises focusing on HEARING. White people have notoriously feeble auditory senses when in the vicinity of people of color; and often, because of inattention, they miss POC’s speech entirely. But you can improve! Here are a few suggestions:
Listen carefully the first time around, and don’t ask a person of color to repeat what they just said because you weren’t paying attention. You should feel embarrassed and apologetic if you have missed what anyone said, of course; but if I had a nickel for every time this has happened for a White person when a person of color was speaking… well, I wouldn’t be poor, you know.
Write down and look up words, names, places, historical references you did not understand when you heard them in conversation with a person of color. Especially if your school did not offer the rudiments of non-White history to you (and most American ones don’t), and you didn’t take more than four years of Spanish. No kidding. Educate yourself, ’cause there’s a ton of stuff you still don’t know – and definitely do NOT interrupt a POC who is speaking to ask them to explain a reference you did not understand. This is what Wikipedia and Google is for, folks. Use it to find out about everything from Audre Lorde’s mom’s roots in Carriacou, to Egyptian art and Ethiopian music, to modern Dominican authors’ books, to MLK’s visit to Ghana, to Ho Chi Minh’s time in New York City, to the World Cup championship, to Mary McLeod Bethune, to Malcolm X in Omaha, and beyond.
Practice staying silent, even when you want to insert a supportive argument, or add something so relevant about your own experience onto the story that a person of color is telling you. Instead of speaking, nod, and wait for more. Be attentive, and keep your mind focused on what this person is saying to you. You would be surprised how many times simple silence will elicit honest and interesting conversation and facts that you were not aware of. (Check out some thoughts on this by Greta Christina if you are interested in more background to this idea!)
Have fun, and don’t forget to practice both SEEING and HEARING exercises every day, for best effect!
Hey, White People! Time for our first yoga lesson: today we will practice SEEING. It’s a common brain impediment for White folks to skip over people of color visually. To address this issue, here are several methods of correction through practice:
When looking around a restaurant or other public venue, slow down and literally count the individual people of color who are dining or hanging out nearby. Don’t forget to count wait staff and old ladies waiting to be seated, children sitting in high chairs or sleeping in strollers, and others who might be easy to overlook. Do not make ignorant comments about how “mixed” the place seems to be, etc.; simply look and count. If the count is zero or one, or only wait staff are POC, rethink your dining or hanging out venue.
When walking down the street, especially around playgrounds or near schools, deliberately look at and smile at each child of color (especially; you are also permitted to smile at White children, but you probably usually do anyway). Notice the children of color, if any. Don’t be creepy, but do notice them. Gently toss back lost balls to children of color when they roll near your feet. Reminder: “Child” means under 18 years old. Don’t forget to smile at all teenagers.
Keep on smiling no matter the response. Do not expect a smile in return in all cases. Do not judge based on whether people smile back at you. White folks have done a lot of nasty stuff (not your fault, but still), and it should unfortunately not surprise you if POC respond slowly or not at all to apparent overtures of friendship from White people. It may take a few centuries for this to play itself out. Be patient, meanwhile.
Enjoy your practice, and see you again soon for more exercises!
Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. –John Dewey
“We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow,’ his name is Today.” —Gabriela Mistral, Su Nombre es Hoy
In the practice of our politics we do not believe that the end always justifies the means. Many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving “correct” political goals. As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics. We believe in collective process and a nonhierarchical distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society. We are committed to a continual examination of our politics as they develop through criticism and self-criticism as an essential aspect of our practice. –The Combahee River Collective Statement (1977)
“But people can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.” –James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean, making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and that if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a demiurge, that there is no famous man who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people. ― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
“Are you a communist?”
“No, I am an anti-fascist.”
“For a long time?”
“Since I have understood fascism.” — Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power. –Benito Mussolini