Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Actively Listening to That Which We Have to Say

Black people here in America are concerned about the violent consequences (for many of its black males) of race-based policing. We are saddened by, frustrated with, and angry at this state of affair, but it appears that hardly any attention is being given to our concerns and hardly any empathy shown when we verbalize our feelings. In order to subpoena the consciousness of the American people vis a vis our plight, and since no help has been forthcoming from other quarters, we formed our own movement. While there are some who have shown support for our cause, the majority is largely silent. When they do speak, it is usually to discredit our movement (charging us with being anti-police and with promoting violence) and to vilify those of us who engage in protest. In addition, they attempt to stipulate how we should express our narrative, even down to the exact words we should use, charging us with being exclusive when, in fact, we are decrying our exclusion (in practice) from the held principle. Further, they insist on telling us that racism is not the problem, that we are being divisive, that we are playing the victim, and then admonish us with the usual boot-strap, an-eye-for-an-eye-makes-one-blind, and we-need-to-come-together cliches.

No one listens to us. How is it possible to establish trust when you go to someone to talk about your plight and how you feel and that person completely invalidates your feelings or concern, suggests that your problem does not exist, and asserts that you are the problem. No one listens to us. So what do we do? We go to the only ones who will truly understand. We talk among ourselves. We talk about the disparity, the injustice. The logical corollary of this kind of venting is a feeding of our own frustration and anger rather than objective sharing that allows from some catharsis and the exploration of possible solutions. What is more is that some of our young people feel that there is no recourse, making them prime targets for the likes of the misguided New Black Panther group which advocates arming black people as a way of tackling our concerns. While I fully understand the frustration that might birth such a response, taking up arms and using violence is not the solution, neither is it the solution that the majority of black people embrace.

So we want to be heard, but someone has to be willing to actively listen to us. Active listening does not mean that you must agree with us. It means recognizing that our "reality" as we describe it must be "real" for "us" - that the sadness, frustration, anger, pain, victimization we feel must be real for us (note: for "us", not you, our reality). Secondly, actively listening to us means universalizing our experience, namely, reflecting back to us your understanding that no one should have to feel/experience such as we are experiencing. Thirdly, actively listening to us involves asking us what we think you can do to help minimize that which we are experiencing. Denying our experience, suggesting we are playing the victim, and telling us what we need to do, instead of bringing us together and establishing trust, drive us away from you. Listen to us.

[photograph by Ric Couchman]