Hijacking the Conversation: Please Be Quiet

This actress is not a young person – though that would not excuse her anyway.  She is my age. She would have been hitting puberty about the same time as the peak of the Civil Rights Movement in 1968.

She would have seen the Vietnam War on TV, the protests, the birth of modern feminism, and other progressive things.

She should definitely know better.  Unless she lived in a very protected, reactionary home where no one turned on a TV and she went to private school, she is someone who would have been exposed to all kinds of progressive thought.

She would have seen people like me bringing up ideas like racism and classism in history or civics class.  There were a lot of us in high school like that.  And we were loud, make no mistake.

I cut this woman absolutely no slack.

She is not alone in how she thinks, unfortunately.  I see this a lot, this attempt to shut people up, basically, by trying to turn the conversation to your issues, to stuff you feel comfortable discussing.

The main point is this: People do not have the right to tell others what their experience really is.

White people do not have the right to tell African-Americans/Black people how racism does or does not affect them.  Nor do they have the right to lead movements that address African-American/Black issues, determine that racism doesn’t exist, or tell people to “get over it”.

We don’t have that right.  I almost want to make a sign and put it out on the front of my house, it upsets me so much.  We don’t have that right because we don’t know.

We don’t know what it’s like to be “not-white”.  We can empathize, we can try to correct/shame other people when they say or do racist things, we can lobby/demonstrate for issues, and we can support movements led by people of color in many ways.

What we cannot – and must not – do, is speak for them.

And it’s not just this actress, of course it’s not.  A brief Googling of “diversity” reveals that there are many white people who do just this.  Under the guise that they are somehow helping to promote tolerance and blah blah blah.

To illustrate, I read a site last night where they have a column called “Ask the White Guy”, which is in itself making light of racial issues but…I digress.

I am not sure what the purpose of this column is, except to highlight how this “diversity expert” (who I think is a CEO of some corporation) is so smart, and so understanding of minority/people of color and their issues.

I really shouldn’t read things like that before bedtime.  It made me angry.

Why?  Because this guy, this “diversity expert” did a couple of things that tell me he has absolutely no self-awareness or even sensitivity to others.

A Middle-Eastern American made a comment, rather bland, about not liking the term “people of color”.  This guy’s response was to tell the commenter that he (the commenter) was using a “Westernized” version of his name in order to garner favor with the powers-that-be in his community.

Of all the arrogant things to say!  “Let me, as Mr. Diversity Expert, completely dismiss your point by not addressing it, and then tell you what your experience is as a Middle-Eastern American. Oh and, by the way, you’re kowtowing to the racist power structure in your community.”

He reacted to all criticism that way, no matter how small.  Or he made fun of their spelling, or published their IP addresses.  Not once, never, did he say something like, “I never thought of that, thank you for bringing this to my awareness so I can ponder it.”

Yes, that would have sounded condescending, but at least he might have acknowledged that he wasn’t the expert he touts himself as.

I have seen this with other prominent “experts”, usually white people.  One – who I shall not name, because I know how touchy and litigious people like this can be – even got mad one time and “tweeted” some fairly nasty stuff that indicated he does have racist views.

The man gives TED talks on racism, and how white people can stop being prejudiced.  He’s just another hypocrite who has found an easy way to make some big bucks.

I am jaded enough so that this stuff does not surprise me.  But I can see how it might disappoint and hurt others.  Kind of like, “I thought he/she was different, but it’s just the same old crap after all.”

When someone lacks self-awareness, and also lacks the ability to listen to others, this is the kind of thing that results.

And that’s a key point: You have to listen.

Listen to others tell you what their experiences are.  Stop your mind from defending, explaining, objecting, and so on – because it’s not your experience that matters in conversations like these, if you find yourself so lucky to be having one.

You can never understand unless you listen.  Listen, and be quiet.  Try to really internalize what this person is expressing to you.

Do not dismiss what they say.

Do not make fun of what they say.

Do not make your issues more important than theirs.

When it’s your turn, you can speak about your experiences.  When it’s your conversation to begin with.  Not in the process of hijacking someone else’s conversation.

We do not live in a “post-racial America”, and I will possibly address that idea in another blog post (otherwise, this post would be too long, and already it’s approaching 2000 words).

Don’t be that person that makes the rest of us cringe and want to stuff a sock in your big mouth, or worse.  Check yourself.  Please.

As for today’s weirdness…

Scientists have managed to “teleport” some tiny little photons 63 miles.  It’s called “quantum teleportation” (“Shades of ‘Star Trek’? Quantum Teleportation Sets Distance Record”, Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience website, 9/22/2015)

And my recommendation for the week is a movie available on Netflix (and possibly elsewhere, you’ll have to look) called “The Awakening”.  It’s a 2011 British horror/psychological thriller set in a mansion-turned-boarding school in the 1920s, about a ghost hunter who discovers a bit more than she skeptically expected.  Minimal violence at the end.  Plot twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, great acting, terrific directing, and awesome setting/costumes.

Be good.  Be kind.  Be quiet.

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