Robert’s Rules of Race Symposium:
General Active Listening Rules:
Don’t assume you know what the person is going to say. Don’t finish the other person’s sentences. Don’t use discussion-stopping language like “Yes, but…,” or “I know exactly what you mean…” Do use “I” messages versus “people” or “everybody.”
Rules for Talking About Race:
Receiver up, transmitter down. Have the purpose of listening, learning and sharing. Identify your emotional investment in the conversation. Are you really having an old conversation with your relatives during the holidays or are you fully present? Check in – do you have more systemic privileges than the other person speaking? If so, they are taking a bigger social risk thank you are.
Don’t just do something; stand there.
Do Allow yourself not to have an answer. Stop the eruption. Know you’re suspicious.
Others see us as a representative of our race while we see ourselves as individuals. Take it personally, but don’t take it personally. When someone talks about the majority group, they mean you and not you.
Test: Can you empathize without taking it personally? Take it slowly if you don’t know whether the group can talk about privately-held assumptions without getting defensive.
Ego versus Role function Ego example: “my stomach hurts or I am burning to say something.”
Role example: Making this statement will get me closer to the goal of understanding what is being said.
The Question Game What if instead of responding, we had to answer with a question for ourselves? “Do I really believe that now or has that been my position for a long time and I just take for granted that that’s still what I hope is true?” “What if I’m wrong?” Or for others? “I’m not sure I understood what you were saying; would you mind saying that again?” REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE A RACIST. BUT THE QUESTION IS WHAT HAPPENED FOR THE PERSON WITH WHOM YOU ARE TALKING TO MAKE HER OR HIM SAY THAT YOU ARE. Or sexist, heterosexist, homophobic, etc. (Not an exhaustive list.)
Do ask “what have I done?” Identify your worst fear about being called a racist. What will happen if someone calls you a racist? This about the impact your position, color and gender have on people who might otherwise be honest with you. Mention privilege and sensitive subjects before someone else can. Don’t deny it when you are called a racist; race is always a possible player.
Rules Not to Break
Don’t ask any question you don’t want answered. “Was I rude to you?”
Don’t make promises you won’t keep. “I will back you up in the meeting.” Better to provide support than say you will.
Don’t make bargains you might regret “I want for us to tell each other exactly how we feel about each other.”
Build a community of people who keep you honest and help you stay on track. Someone who can help critique your behavior outside the difficult conversation. e.g. “[minority group of people] don’t owe you shit” for being an ally.
Conflict-Aversion Check Chart:
What Was Said
What Was Heard