A Whackadoodle discussion on fighting prejudice, being woke, and learning how to persuade, including four practical suggestions for fighting prejudice. By Lynn Marie Sager
“I am sick and tired of all those white folks out there giving us white folks a bad name,” I told her.
“What the heck are you talking about?”
“I am talking about prejudice,” I answered.
“Don’t tell me that you buy into the belief of reverse racism.”
“What do you know about reverse racism?”
“I know it’s the belief that affirmative action and similar programs that redress racial inequality are a form of anti-white racism and that any social or economic gains made by black people cause disadvantages for white people. I also know that the theory is ridiculous because there is little to no actual evidence that white Americans suffer systemic discrimination like African Americans, indigenous Americans, Hispanic Americans, or even poor Americans do.”
“Exactly,” I said, raising my fists, “Dang, I’ve taught you well.”
Her eyes narrowed, “So do believe in reverse racism or not?” she asked with a touch of irritation.
“Of course I don’t,” I assured her with a snort. “I think the theory has absolutely no merit, and it’s a reaction to the fears some whites have that if they give anything to the other guy, nothing will be left for them. In fact, I don’t even believe in race because there is also no scientific evidence that the races are even different. Sure, different eye color, eye shape, skin color, but inside we are all human with the same frailties and strengths. We are as about as different as a black cat is from a white cat. We have just been taught to hate and fear each other. We have been taught that our culture is better than theirs. Our problems have more to do with class than with race. Our problems have to do with a system that rewards and protects those already in power.”
“And of course, our problems have to do with prejudice,” she reminded me.
“Yeah,” I admitted. “They have to do with prejudice.”
“So the question becomes, ‘How do we fight prejudice?’”
“Well as a members of the white privileged class,” I said after some thought. “I don’t think we should be going around telling African Americans what they should be doing to…,” I suddenly felt at a loss for words. “I don’t know. To rise above? However, I will say this. I like what they are doing.”
“What are they doing?”
“Are you kidding me?” I asked. “They’re showing us role models that don’t fit into the old stereotypes. They’re busting through an antiquated belief system with honor and class. You see, the problem with prejudice is that we can never see it until it comes calling. We don’t know that we’re prejudice until a person shows up to prove our beliefs are wrong. Showing someone an opposite is the only way to get a person to question a belief as ingrained as prejudice. That’s was what the LGBTQ community did when they started coming out of the closet. We suddenly realized that they were some of our best doctors, lawyers, advisors, artists, family and friends. We started realizing that the stereotypes were just that, nothing but stereotypes.”
“I suppose that is also why people get so upset,” she said thoughtfully.
“Now, I gotta ask what you mean.”
“Well, you’ve always told me that people get upset when their beliefs are threatened, so all those new role models must make a lot of people uncomfortable.”
“I think you’re probably right,” I agreed. “And what have I told you about feeling uncomfortable?”
“That I should get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable because it is the only way I can be sure that I am growing,” she intoned with a half smile.
“So is that the answer?” she teased. “Get people comfortable with feeling uncomfortable?”
“That’s not the bad idea that you think it is,” I replied. “That’s exactly what happened when segregation was made illegal. People were forced to face the uncomfortable, and a good portion of them learned that there was nothing to fear. Of course there are always a few who refuse to grow.”
“The eighty/twenty rule right?”
“Right,” I agreed.
“So that means there will always be a twenty percent who are not persuadable, so I should focus my attention on the twenty percent who are persuadable.”
“So,” she said, straightening her back. “As a members of the white privileged class, what should we be doing to fight prejudice and make our fellow privileged members comfortable with feeling uncomfortable?”
“Well, one thing we can do is introduce them to the role models.”
“You mean like, take them to movies and stuff?”
“Sure take them to the movies,” I laughed. “I recommend one in particular. It’s call Best of Enemies, based on a true story about how Ann Atwater, an outspoken black civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis, a local Ku Klux Klan leader, actually became great friends. It might teach you something at the same time it teaches them.”
“Okay,” she said. “But I can tell by your laugh that you think it’s a bad idea.”
“No, I actually think it’s a good idea. Music, stories, movies, images, are always powerful persuaders. However, nothing beats the real thing. Like this one time, I had a student. I was tutoring him privately like I tutor you, and he had a major prejudice regarding gay men, so I invited him to a party at my best friend’s home. He had the most wonderful time, and for weeks he praised my best friend, extolling his generosity, his humor, and his kindness, until one day I asked him, ‘You do know that he’s gay, right?’”
“Oh wow,” she exclaimed. “What happened?”
“He was shocked of course. At first he refused to believe me, and argued that it wasn’t possible. In the end, he decided that my best friend must be an exception to the rule.”
“Well, that’s not great.”
“Actually it is,” I replied. “For the first time in his life, he had questioned his own belief. A belief that had been ingrained in him as a child. He might not have reached the conclusion that I’d hoped for, but he remained a friend of my best friend, and it became harder for him to accept those old stereotypes without questioning them.”
“Is that why people get so mad at people that say they’re ‘Woke?‘ she suddenly asked. “I actually looked the word up once in the dictionary, and it basically means to be alert to any injustice in a society, especially racism. I mean, to me that sounds like a good thing, but to hear some people talk about it, being woke is the ultimate betrayal.”
“Yes,” I admitted. “When people begin to question their beliefs, it makes those around them very uncomfortable. Do you remember when we read about the Power of Attraction?”
“Do you remember what happens when we start to change and grow?”
“The people that we are attracted to begin to change, and the people that are attracted to us begin to change.”
“And the people who we were once attracted to, but no longer are?” I prompted.
“They begin to question why we are acting so weird,” She recalled. “I also remember you writing that the Power of Attraction is why at any critical change or juncture in our lives, we begin to feel alone even when surrounded by friends. We start to feel like we don’t fit in because we no longer do fit in.”
“And people feel extremely uncomfortable when they no longer fit in.”
“So they need to go out and make new friends, friends attracted to their growing beliefs.” she looked up hopefully. “So that must be part of the process right? Helping them to find new friends. Like when you introduced your student to your best friend.”
“New friends, new authorities, new way of thinking, yes.”
“Does that mean we come back to persuasion?” she asked. “I can tell from your voice that you’re headed back to persuasion.”
“Yeah, I suppose I am headed back to persuasion,” I admitted.
“And persuasion is not about telling,” she continued. “It is about asking and showing. Asking them questions to get them thinking, and showing them examples that help them think differently.”
“Absolutely,” I smiled.
“The person doing the talking is not persuading,” she went on excitedly, showing off how much she had learned. “Calling people names, telling people what you think, threatening violence, none of those persuade. Those things only place another brick in the very wall that you’re trying to break through. The only thing that helps people to persuade others are questions that help people question their walls. Questions that help people think of things in ways they never have before.”
“Along with patience, a lot of patience,” I added. “Combined with an understanding of how uncomfortable growing and changing can be.”
“Yet,” she added reluctantly. “So many people just want to call people out for being stupid, or prejudice, or lying.”
“Good, call them out,” I nearly shouted. “They need to be called out. But call people out in a way that is constructive not destructive. Call them out in a way that gets them to think, rather than fall back behind their wall. It’s exhausting to play whack-a-mole with all the lies. You can’t counter them all. But you can learn to ask the hard questions that uncover the lies.” I took a deep breath and added more calmly, “Mostly, you will just get the liars uncomfortable because they will have no answer to your questions, but you might also make the lies more obvious to the people around the liar. Your questions might have gotten them thinking. Your questions might have helped them see the world in a fuller context.” She started to giggle. “What?” I asked.
“You’ve got your metaphors mixed up,” she accused. “Questions chip away at the wall, so they are destructive. Accusations build the wall up, so they are constructive.”
“Ha ha,” I rolled my eyes. “Aren’t you the clever one.”
She kept giggling as she added, “But I get your point. It’s like the way you ended your last book.”
“I know what I know, but I like it when you confirm what you know.”
“It’s when I asked you what you wanted people to take away from your book, and you brought up that woman and her poor brother.” She closed her eyes to remember. “You said, ‘I keep thinking about this morning before we got started reading. How you were watching a cable news show where the host was interviewing a family whose sister had been crushed in the crowd on January 6. More than anything, her family wanted people to know that she was not a bad, or crazy person. They wanted people to remember her as a loving aunt, a giving sister, and a wonderful friend who somehow had become radicalized by something they didn’t understand.”
“And I said that the thing that haunting me the most was her brother’s last wish for his sister.”
“Yeah, he wished that he had been able to talk to her before she had left for the Capitol, and when the brother was asked what he would have said, he started listing all the things that he would have told her, ‘Don’t go. It’s all a lie. There was no election fraud. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ You said that his answer got you so sad.”
“And why did it get me sad?”
“Because you knew that all his talking would not have worked. It would have fallen on deaf ears, but you were also pretty sure that you knew what might have worked.”
“And what was that?” I asked softly.
“Reminding her that her nieces were waiting to go on a picnic, and asking her to stay home for them. Asking her what she was afraid of, and helping her to face her fears. Asking her what she needed before she went looking for it on the Capitol steps.”
We sat in silence for some time when she suddenly took a deep breath and said, “As your student, I expect it’s my job to sum things up.”
“If you say so,” I couldn’t help but smile.
“One,” she began without looking at me. “We hold up the role models. We share them with our friends. We get them to start seeing past the stereotypes.”
“I like it,” I said.
“Two,” she said, still ignoring me. “We invite our friends and family to events, and parties, and places where they will meet people who don’t automatically think like they do. We show them that the world is much more complicated than they think.”
“I like that one too,” I admitted.
“Three,” she added, more intently. “And I am adding this one on my own. We need to help call out the legal systems that keep holding people back because of their poverty, or their religion, or their color, or their zip code. We need to call out the systems that the people in power use to keep themselves in power, so we can review those systems and make them more fair.”
“I absolutely love that one,” I said. “Although you might want to add that we also need to celebrate and support the all the people and organizations who are already doing just that. Oh, and we need to elect representatives that support that as well.”
“Four,” she glanced at me. “We need to stop telling the people that we are calling out why they are wrong because that gets us nowhere; we are better off asking questions that make people think. We need to practice presenting all of our criticisms as questions.”
“The Socratic Method at its best,” I agreed. “A form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.”
“The Socratic Method of persuasion has been around for over two thousand years.” she added doubtfully. “Do you think that people will ever get it right?”
“I’m not sure,” I had to admit. “But I will never stop trying to teach it.”
“Even though they killed him because he wouldn’t stop asking questions?”
“Especially because they killed him because he wouldn’t stop asking questions.”
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