Here at TJC transparency and honesty are the soup du jour all day, seven days a week. We are talkers. We check-in, we emote, we process, we work through, we come to resolution, or we don’t but set up a time to bring it up again until we can- we’re human. We are in the business of rolling up our sleeves and diving right into the messy discomfort that is facilitating discussions and teaching about systems of oppression. In our line of work we have to have the kind of conversations that make people shift in their seats, hoping that they don’t get called so they can retreat to a quiet place in their mind. This energy becomes palpable at times. The fascinating thing is that after a little encouraging and a lot of cultivating a space where folks feel like they have a little wiggle room to stretch, we eventually break the ice (not with traditional ice breakers though- ditch those things already, they’re awful) and we start to see people work through this discomfort. Now, it does take a bit of finessing on our facilitators part, but it is generally manageable and it ends up always being worth it. It is clear that people really just need to feel held and supported in order to be able to find the room to stretch. The question is then- when did we get so uncomfortable having conversations with each other? Is this something that has been passed down to us through generations? Is this just our basic monkey brain still protecting us from the dangers of the world by activating our fight or flight response? As fully empowered spiritual beings, how do we find a way to override this baser instinct?
These are the questions we need to find answers to in order to be able to help us all collectively figure out how to have these tough conversations on a regular basis, in a myriad of spaces with all kinds of people. We are aware we are not saying anything new here- but we feel like this is a something that we need to keep talking about in order for those of us who typically avoid engaging in this kind of discourse to wrap our heads around the idea that talking about racism, white supremacy, cishetero patriarchy and capitalism are not easy to talk about. They’re not going to be easy to talk about until we get into a space where they are easy to talk about- which we assume will be the day that we have collectively started to make real progress in dismantling it.
People who are not accustomed to talking about this are really not trying to sit down with a drink and deconstruct why and how so many phobias (homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia) have roots in racism. This is especially important for those of us who hold privilege and who often find ourselves in spaces with people who hold at worst, violent, racist beliefs and at best, are mildly problematic. The thing is, in order to fix this problem we need to have these conversations consistently.
There are so many other -isms and phobias that are rooted in White Supremacy that dismantling it and all the bi-products of it (cishetero patriarchy, ableism, homophobia, etc.) is the only panacea to most of the world’s ails. It’s actually kind of incredible that if we can figure out how to open people’s hearts and minds to listening to a truth about the systems that govern us currently, that we can fix so many issues that have resulted in the violence on countless black and brown bodies every day. THIS is the cure to all that is destroying us and our planet. So, why is it that even those of us that know and truly believe this- do we still have such a hard time starting these conversations, or even just speaking up when we encounter racists rhetoric, witness microaggressions or even full blown violence. What keeps us silent?
Turns out the answer may be as simple (and as deeply challenging) as that we are out of practice. Recently we attended a workshop in the Alternatives to Policing series being hosted at the First Congregational Church of Oakland. This series seeks to examine ways in which the community can be educated and empowered to handle issues within the community rather than turning to the state to avoid causing more harm. We highly recommend you check out this brilliantly informative series. We had the pleasure of being in community and learning from local activist Mia Mingus. She led us in a knowledge share around Transformative Justice. Mia had so many insightful things to say surrounding how we internalize the state within ourselves and how it reflects in how we engage with each other. The point that she made that made us feel the most called out was- if we can’t deal with conflict in our own personal relationships how do we expect to be able to handle the conflict/tough conversations in the outside world.
To say that some of us didn’t expect to be “come for” like that in the most supportive and loving way possible by the brilliant leadership of Mia is an understatement. How many of us in this field are so willing to go out and try to tell other folks when their behavior is problematic only to have it be met with hostility or have it turn into an argument which leads absolutely nowhere. In fact, it usually leads to two people who now have negative feelings towards each other and the topic that was brought up which ultimately results in there being no productive conversation and absolutely no progress. This helps absolutely no one. It’s truly no wonder that this keeps happening. We are out of practice. We oftentimes refuse to deal with the tough discussions in our own lives, because of fear, poor communication skills, or lack of training and guidance on how to deal with this in a healthy way that it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when we are trying to have challenging conversations about racism we don’t know how to do it in a productive and meaningful way. A way that may actually move the needle in the right direction.
Initiating these kinds of conversations can be so nerve-wracking if you aren’t typically accustomed to engaging them, that’s OK. We want to help by sharing a few things that have worked for us with our clients and in our own personal lives.
Take care of yourself- make sure you have the capacity and space to get into a real conversation if one begins to develop.
Make sure that love and growth for everyone is the goal.
Remind folks that this is going to be uncomfortable and that is OK. We are all in this without judgement, that this is a brave space where we seek to understand and learn.
Read this rousing piece by Mia Mingus that is a call to collaborate with each other and how we can begin to do that work
There is also this helpful list of ways that we can overcome the fear of confrontation
If the conversation starts to feel like its going in circles and folks are getting agitated- be ready to suggest a pause for you all to take a step back from the conversation. No more “agree to disagree,” that’s how we got here.
Take a deep breath and remember that with practice, this will get easier- we promise.
We are aware of how big of an ask this is, so please know that we understand some days you have the spoons, some days you don’t. Do this on a case by case basis, but we hope you choose courage more often than not. This is heavy and difficult subject matter, but people’s lives depend on us choosing to be brave when we’d rather be silent. There is a need for all of us to invest in each other doing better so that as a community, both local and global, we can do better for everyone. We aren’t free til we’re all free. In order to get there we need to keep practicing having the uncomfortable conversations. Be brave. Be resilient. Be hopeful. Be loving.