Curbing Your Anti-racist Enthusiasm

Wait, wait, I’m not going to tell anyone not to continue in their work to fight racism, point it out when they see it, or work on their own behavior and bias with regard to race. Nope, nope, that’s not where I’m going. But, I do want to share some insights I’ve been having as I watch discussions about race happening, and how the books I’ve recently been reading cause me to see them differently.

Here’s a very passionate young person I do my best to learn from.

The material I’ve been reading on unconscious bias has made it clear that, thanks to growing up in a particular society at a particular time, each of us presents ourselves to the world through the lens of our own biases, some of which are helpful and some of which may be less so. A good thing I’ve read is that the people born more recently may well be less prone to some of the racial biases that older people may have grown up with. A large percentage of younger adults in the US grew up in diverse neighborhoods, attended diverse schools, and are familiar with a wider range of US cultures (most young people I know are fans of music from urban, African, Caribbean, Latino, Korean, Indian and other artists), and have friends and colleagues from highly diverse backgrounds. So, they have a different set of biases from older Americans.

People my kids’ age tend to make friends based on common interests and experiences. This often leads to racially diverse friends with strong bonds in other areas. (Some don’t; I over-generalize.) Photo by @SBphoto via Twenty20.

I am very happy about this, and very interested in learning from people of my children’s generation. Sometimes it’s hard, though, because in their anti-racist enthusiasm they push their audience away.

Another fact about a large subset of younger adults is that their preferred methods of interacting with others tend to be more confrontational, less “polite,” and less patient when sharing their views with others (not implying only young people act this way, it’s more appropriate in some cultures, too). This is the part that causes communication problems with people who grew up avoiding confrontation, focusing on polite behavior, and a conversation style that includes acknowledging the potential validity of the other person’s point of view. Neither of these ways of interacting is all right or all wrong; there are issues with each one, which I’m going to let you think of for yourselves.

Admirably, many people in the 18-30-ish age group want to create a better society and are working hard toward those goals. They feel passionate about the rights of people of color, LGBTQ+, poor people, and the oppressed around the world. Yay for them! Those are goals shared by many older people, too, though their methods of working toward it are different, and often unpopular with younger folks (which is fine and normal; I’m not complaining, just noticing).

The thing is, I’m wondering what the goals the young and fervent activists are working toward might be.

  • Are they trying to change people’s minds? I wonder if calling people you don’t know racist for actions you don’t even know that they’ve done is terribly helpful (for example, I have been sitting back and watching a woman lecturing an obviously white woman about how race and racism work, blissfully unaware (or not listening hard enough to realize) that the second woman has a black husband and family members). It’s racist to assume someone has beliefs because of their looks, period. And yes, being in an interracial relationship doesn’t mean you have no bias and can shut down conversation (sorry if I’m not clear about this; I’m still learning).
  • Are they trying to prove how ethically advanced and modern they are? In this case, demonstrating that you’re a passionate anti-racist while bullying and insulting others shows ALL your ethics, quite clearly.
  • Are they trying to sow unity? Are they trying to add to divisiveness? These are my big questions. I’ve been observing people pick at others for not being non-racist in the “right” way (say, for adopting a child of another race, without knowing whether a white adoptive parent may have a black or Asian partner or other black or Asian children). It reminds me of one branch of a religion not saying another branch is Christian enough, or Muslim enough, or the right kind of Buddhist, without remembering they all are focused on the same overall goal, which is love.

This is why I wish more of us knew HOW our unconscious biases work, and that none of us is above them or immune to them. I see a lot of bias against older people in the passionate younger folks. That’s too bad, since when I was a young, passionate feminist, I learned a LOT from the women who’d gone before me, which helped me not repeat some mistakes and not burn some bridges. Perhaps some of us older folks might have useful insights, if we could share our perspectives without being silenced or labeled.

I know I harp on this message. It’s because I think the ONLY way we can make a better world is to listen to each other, maybe even respectfully.

And some of us elders want to silence and label younger folks. None of that is helpful, because the one thing I’ve learned is that the best way to limit the effects of unconscious bias is to get to know members of the groups you may have trouble with. Spending quality time in conversation and interaction with the “other” is guaranteed to help all of us realize that “they” are not a monolithic group, but diverse, varied, and interesting. Not all elderly people are the stereotypical MAGA-hat wearing, flag waving, insular white folks. They are not all inflexible members of the liberal elite. Not all young people hate everything that isn’t socialist or everyone who doesn’t fall into their definition of “woke” (insert current term for woke there). But, if we just talk AT each other rather than WITH each other, we’ll never figure that out.

We all have our blind spots, our prejudices, our biases, and our areas of passion. Not everyone will share them, and not everyone will even express the same biases and passions in the same way we do. We will never grow as human beings nor as a society if we don’t listen to other points of view. Even people we think are dead wrong in one area may have something “right” to share with us in another area, which we’d never find out if we just dismiss them out of hand.

I interrupt this diatribe with a photo of a dishcloth (with an error; I’m keeping this one). YOU can have one if you sponsor this blog and its companion podcast!

I know my audience skews toward people of my age, but still, I want to reach out to those younger than me to listen to us, and give us a chance to share what we’ve been through and how we got there. And then share with people my age what YOU are going through and how you got there, rather than pointing fingers at us, labeling us, and dismissing us. Being young doesn’t invalidate anyone’s experiences and insights, but neither does being old. We can all learn from each other, but we might have to stop talking sometimes and listen.

Rather than trying to drag others kicking and screaming into the new and more advanced world, I’d love to see enthusiastic and passionate people reaching out a hand and gently lifting up others, knowing that they used the experiences of those who came before as stepping stones to get where they are today.

It Would Be Funny, but

It’s true. I can’t believe this happened, but in my Facebook feed today were two posts in a row, one by an ultra-conservative friend and one by an ultra-liberal friend. Both of the posts were about the really awful power outages that people who live here in Texas endured last week, some of whom are still dealing with it. Here’s the first one:

Oh no! How terrible!

And here is the second one:

Wait, what? (Abbott is the governor of Texas, and a totally right-wing right winger)

This is exactly what’s driving me crazy these days. Each side has found a way to blame the other for the issue. Neither article talks about anything anyone is doing to remedy the infrastructure issues or get help to people here. They just want to increase polarization.

It’s no wonder why I’m so uncomfortable with how people isolate themselves in their own echo chambers of slanted information. I think I know stuff, then I go over to some Facebook group and discover there’s a whole world of other news and a whole lot of people who say they hate me (I actually said something in the group once, just to see what would happen, and the piranhas pounced).

I remember getting a chuckle out of the endless parade of “Thanks, Obama” posts that came up whenever anything went wrong when he was President. The stuff some of these people blame on Biden has me scratching my head, though. And I truly enjoyed them going on and on about how Ted Cruz going to Mexico was JUST FINE, heck, they’d have gone too, if they had money.

I happen to know there are Facebook pages with some pretty biased links aimed more toward people like myself, but I know enough to see when things are getting way over-partisan, mean-spirited, and unhelpful.

We all need to make sure we keep our eyes and ears open, so we at least have a clue as to where our neighbors, friends, and family members are coming from. And yes, I know I repeat this a lot.

Fascinating Feedback (and Lack Thereof)

Yesterday, I dared to propose that it is a good idea to work on not demonizing “the other side” so much. I keep proposing that, and it’s never very popular, but I’ll keep doing it, because from what I’ve read and experienced, everyone thinks their side makes sense. That, coupled with the fact that most actual people are in the middle, not on the radical ends of the spectrum, makes me think we could find common ground AND still keep our personal beliefs.

Sometimes seeing things from a higher perspective is uncomfortable and not fun.

I wondered what kind of response I’d get (if any), and who I’d hear from. To my surprise, the first people who responded on my Facebook post were two of my conservative friends. Now, as Lee pointed out, conservative friends I still have on Facebook are either relatives or people I enjoy having rational discussions with. And sure enough, they posted rational thoughts that I enjoyed and learned from.

My second surprise was, given that I have a poop-load of liberal friends, some of whom are extra-extra liberal, I initially didn’t hear a peep out of them on Facebook, either in agreement or disagreement. But, whew, I did eventually get the kind of feedback I’d hoped for, from all sides, in private messages, email, and other media. I’d like to share a few wise words, which I’ll keep anonymous but colorful.

Both my husband and this friend agreed that polarization is profitable:

“There’s a lot of money being spent from both extremes to convince the people in the middle who are getting along and helping one another — making things work, that there are more people working against them than working for them.”

A couple of people privately said to me that they hesitate to consider moderating their approach, because it might mean saying you agree with them or giving up your beliefs. This friend was sharing a link to some additional useful content that helped them (sorry it’s behind a paywall), and then shared a perspective that sounded all too familiar to me.

 “I think for myself, what scares me, is that if I move to the middle, if I try to find common ground, that I endorse all the things that have been so shocking and repugnant. I don’t have to list them here, after the last four years we know them well. But this program [link above], filled with wise, revolutionary activists, helped me to understand that there is a BIG difference between looking for common ground and listening and accepting what is unacceptable. I’m going to buy it, so i can go over it again, in my own time. Not only are the ideas helpful, it amplifies voices that I don’t hear often enough and that I don’t know well, but want to learn more about. I’m embarrassed to say that only Van Jones was really known to me. Anyway, I recommend this. I’ve always fought against the Hillbilly Elegy mindset and I’m not advocating a glorification of the rural racism, ignorance and misogyny I grew up with in the Adirondacks. I stand very firmly against those things. But when I dehumanize people without understanding their complexity and see them as trash, then to paraphrase Van Jones, my trash becomes Nazi or QAnon treasure. We will never get anywhere with hate and divisiveness. Brene Brown says much the same. We want to shame and hate-because we are very angry about what we see and for VERY good reason. We should be angry. As Brene says, it would be great if shame did work, because we could then shame the ever loving shit out of some folks. But it never, ever works to change behavior, more’s the pity. Folks have to change on their own and feel their own shame. It’s such a challenge to hold people accountable, without dehumanizing and shaming. But, it can be done, I hope.”

Yes, oh yes. This is why I want to keep caring about everyone! Things are complex, and turning them into black and white doesn’t solve complex problems.

Another friend admitted that the other side’s claims scare them, enough so that my blog post also scared them. I totally get that. I have a feeling a LOT of the people who didn’t say anything were in this camp. Most of my friends probably are. I can’t deny that some of the things I learn are scary to me. I just have to note that some of the things I believe scare others. Sad.

I wonder if my all-American liver and onions dinner would scare many of my friends?

One of the wisest people I know concurred with me, which helped me feel like I’m not some kind of fool:

“…unless we respect the right of others to hold a conflicting opinion and can be comfortable discussing them with each other we will never achieve the peace we say we want to have.”

And thoughtful local friend echoed the above:

“…my standard is that if you can’t argue your opponent’s side then you don’t know what you really believe. Not enough people seek the ‘true’ or facts but just believe so much fake, half truth junk. And sad is the fact that too many have lost sight that we can all love each other and be friends, yet still live on different political spectrums. But alas, we have to try to squash and kill anyone and everyone that is not of the same like mind as ‘we’ are.”

 Here’s one more, from a blog reader commenting on my desire to be on the team with people willing to look at the big picture (check out his entire comment on my post from yesterday for a helpful, if sorta sad, UK perspective):

“I think the team in question is Centrism, rational, liberal but also skeptical and factual. It’s a devastating gap in politics on both sides of the Atlantic right now.”

Yes. When you are advocating for being in the center, it does NOT mean believing in nothing and it does not mean accepting everything each side maintains as true. Let’s work toward keeping rationality, skepticism, and factuality in mind, even if we come from a conservative viewpoint, and maybe we’ll find goals we can agree on.

How the last few months have left me. How about you?

Thanks

I really appreciate everyone who was brave enough to share their thoughts on a controversial issue. I’d love to learn more from you all. If you take the time to read this, I respect your opinion! This is how we build community.

Controversial Unity Crap Again

While I’ve been taking a little break from panicking about the state of our divided country here in the USA, people have not stopped fomenting divisiveness at every opportunity. It’s starting to bug me more and more. I have a radical suggestion.

If we just focused our energy and money on improving the lives of our citizens instead of punishing people we disagree with, we might just make things actually BETTER.

Crazy, right? I got to thinking about it, because a Patriot friend of mine (yes, I have Patriot friends) posted a long article by Dennis Prager saying how scary things are because the Left is taking away all the freedoms of people on the Right. I’m not going to quote him, but it’s worth reading before you read more of my thoughts.

I’ll look at these Valentine-shaped bindweed leaves while you read.

I read the whole thing, because I think it’s important to make an effort to understand where folks are coming from. What struck me most was this:

If I substituted left-leaning examples and fears for the right-leaning examples and fears, I could have written this.

Our divided society is divided, for the most part, because whoever’s content we read is designed to make us fear our neighbors, believe they are untrustworthy an out to get us, and constantly lie to us. Two examples:

  • The article by Prager says how afraid Patriots are to admit they planned to vote for their candidate, and whispered about it at work. Oddly, here in Milam County, a huge percentage of homes and ranches had (and still have) flags, signs, and hand-made items proclaiming their allegiance to that candidate, while I can remember ONE sign for the other candidate. Hmmm. Seems we both had reason to not mention our leanings (other than the fact that the workplace is one of those places where it’s not great to talk politics). That fear had to come from somewhere.
  • I watch, read, and listen to news from left-leaning sources, like NPR and the BBC. But, during the elections and inauguration period, I watched a lot of CNN coverage, because it was the one that disgusted my household the least. By just stepping outside my personal prejudices a little bit, I could easily see how the reporting was designed to get us upset. You couldn’t miss the soundbites about how one candidate spread “lies” and “untrue” information and downplayed anything more reasonable he might have said. I can tell when I’m being manipulated.

Who’s Benefiting?

The question that has been running through my head, in I guess my own personal conspiracy theory, is who’s benefiting from all this sowing of discord and promotion of us versus them thinking? Who wins by taking advantage of the undeniable human impulse to come up with reasons to make the out-group appear terrible (which, apparently, a long time ago, kept people from spreading diseases (from Sway, the book I’m reading and from Behave, which told me how this stuff works in our brains)).

  • Somebody made a shit-ton of money selling those omnipresent T**** signs.
  • Somebody’s making a lot of money off guns and ammo sales.
  • Somebody’s profiting from all those masks us pro-vaccinators are buying.
  • Whoever owns these highly factional news outlets must be raking it in.
  • I could go on, but I think you get my drift.

People are spending so much of their valuable money, time, and energy on hating each other these days! The rich one one side are spending $4,000 a plate for fundraisers for politicians outside their state. The rich on the other side are doing exactly the same thing. That amount of money, given locally, could help people struggling from the consequences of the pandemic, help working parents find child care so they can work from home and not go crazy, or house the homeless. I hear the message that my conservative friends don’t want there to be government handouts. Government handouts would not be necessary if people helped each other, like Jesus tells them to.

I’ve heard it said many times that there’s a grain of truth in every rumor or speculation. What if we stepped back and set aside the hyperbole to find the truth in the fears and concerns of all the people in the US? What if we looked from another perspective? What would happen?

When I try to do this, it’s hard. We have been ingrained with our partisan beliefs our whole lives, and they are what bind us to our “team” and make us feel special and a part of the family of believers. I’m no different. But I am willing to give it a try. I know we have much in common, like loving our families, wanting meaningful work, and not wanting to go hungry. We’re all committed to our faith journeys, however different they are (that includes you, atheists).

What would happen if we told those people, corporations, or other faceless entities who are profiting from keeping us at each other’s throats to go shove it? Would we be able to finally figure out what the motives of the profit-makers really are? Would it entail ALL of us struggling and failing? It might.

I hesitate to write this kind of kumbaya content, because I know I’ll hear back, “But those other guys did THIS!” and “Those awful people are doing THAT to me!” and “They’re just EVIL, I tell you!”

Image result for surprised goat
Surprise!

Newsflash: there are misguided and dangerous people in every single group you could name. There are also people who are just trying to live their lives and have been influenced by different sources of information. What we NEED are more people on all sides who are willing to step aside and look at the big picture.

That’s the team I want to join.

What if You Don’t Want to Learn?

As a fitting start to Black History Month, I’ve been thinking about all the learning I’ve been doing during the COVID year. Much of it has been about racism, the history of race, and unconscious bias. It’s really opened my eyes about a lot of areas for growth in my attitudes and actions, as well as confirming things that have made me uncomfortable my whole life. I’m glad I’m going through all this, and feel more grounded in reality every day.

Harvey, under my desk, asks when it is going to be Black Dog History Month?

Now, I’m open to learning about this stuff, even knowing perfectly well that as a human, I’m programmed to detect “others” and be on guard for them. The book I’m currently reading (Sway) makes the point that just because there are things hard-wired into us doesn’t mean we can’t change. It also helps that I hang around with people who are also open to learning about this stuff, want equality for everyone, and are willing to work on it.

But, after hearing my sister tell a story about how surprised she was to find out that someone she liked lived in the alternate reality where many in the US hang out, I got to thinking about how many people are fine and dandy just the way they are, and are not open to changing how they think about others. Complacency seems to be pretty darned common.

I’m understanding more and more WHY the big divide in the US exists, from a big picture perspective. When you feel a real attachment to your “tribe,” where all your friends, family, and admired celebrities are, the last thing you want to do is not fit in. It’s a lot easier to tell yourself that these people’s beliefs are correct, good, and appropriate from you than to stick out like a sore thumb, get picked on, or even get ostracized from the group (which has happened to a lot of people I know!). Divisiveness pays!

I know that yelling your beliefs louder and louder is not effective in changing people’s views. Image by @FreedomTumZ via Twenty20.

There’s really nothing enticing about being open to changing your views, if all the rewards come from sticking right where you are. My current idea is that, if we want people to change, even a teeny bit, asking them to compromise probably isn’t the right tactic. There needs to be something in it for those folks. It seems to me that if there were some reward for being willing to learn about other points of view and maybe even changing your mind, people might be more willing to put in the effort and sacrifice some comfort for it.

I’m testing my hypothesis by trying to figure out what kind of reward it would take for ME to be more open to listening to the other side. One if family unity. I do listen to certain family members, because I want to keep them in my family more than I want to feel better than them because I’m on the “right” side. Another is satisfying my curiosity. I have always found it useful to figure out what some group is actually about when I have a strong gut reaction. That has helped me learn a lot about Islam, its various types, and the variety of ways it’s expressed. Now, rather than disliking a whole group of people, I only have an issue with a small portion, just the same as I do with Christians, Jews, and others.

Nope, a trophy probably won’t work as a reward. Image by @fabien.bazanegue.photography via Twenty20.

But, those seem like rather internally oriented rewards. I wonder if something more physical or tangible would help? What, like getting paid to learn all about Qanon (or whatever that is). That doesn’t work for me. I just want to know where all these ideas about people eating babies come from. I guess I don’t know elite-enough people.

So, I end up at a loss. I can’t think of any reward that would entice someone who’s perfectly happy as a racist, a sexist, a radical religious extremist, or a fascist to want to learn about what people over on my side refer to as “facts.”

Any ideas? Am I entirely off base? What could make people more open to learning about “the other” in their lives? Has anyone read a book that might guide me? (Like I need another book to read…not.)