When it comes to race, people seem to want two things: honest conversations and real solutions. Yet the best I can tell, our society is struggling with both. It makes sense though. The quality of our solutions depend on the quality of our conversations, and since we’ve been having bad conversations, we’ve come up with bad solutions.
Yes! People want action now. This isn’t just an intellectual exercise. The stability of our society is at stake. But if we botch the honest conversations piece (again), we will botch the real solutions piece (again). So, here is my basic diagnosis of the problem: we really, really struggle with disagreements, which results in scolding, labeling, ganging up on, threats, violence, belligerence, “defriending,” “unfollowing,” stalemates, and just poor decision making in general.
From what I’ve observed, the dominant personalities tend to jump right in. The conversation gets out of hand rather quickly, and then productivity gets lost. After several failed attempts, many people begin to think, “Screw it, I’ll just stay quiet. It aint worth it.” This happens all the time– not just with race, but many controversial subjects. The outcome ends up being that the most important and meaningful conversations either become one-sided or, even worse, get thrown out altogether. No wonder why so many people would rather talk about the damn weather.
Here’s my two cents on how to fix this problem. If we are going to talk about race issues honestly, we need to agree on how honest, uncomfortable material and disagreements will be handled. Are we allowing name-calling, yelling, punches? Or can we lead with the assumption that “maybe there is more for me to learn?” We need to figure that out first, so we have an idea of what the consequences will be for our honesty. In other words, start with a conversation about conversation. Agree on some rules, then engage. It will make a substantial difference.
Again, I know people are desperate for solutions, and some may roll their eyes at what I’ve suggested. But I wholeheartedly believe we’ve skipped this necessary step for too long, and we can’t afford to make the same mistake again. We must get it right this time.