Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Talking Back to Racism: What They Did v. What They Are Conversations

A friend showed me this video last night at the Healing Racism in Anchorage steering committee meeting.  Talking about race is usually hard in our society.  In the video Ill Doctrine says you should focus on what the people did, not what they are

But the presentation is what makes it so worth watching.

Invest three minutes of your time.  Too long?  Just watch the first 30 seconds, you can spare that.  But see for yourself, it's like potato chips, you can't just watch a few seconds.

Video Tip: It's easier to learn from mistakes than from perfection and this film illustrates the importance of your background. I'd point out to future film makers something to pay attention to when you're doing a film like this.

He didn't do it all in one breath. There are lots of cuts where they edited different versions together. Nothing wrong with that. This would be hard to do well in just one take. But when you do that, try to get a neutral background. If they hadn't gotten the door on the left in the background, it would be a better film.  But, professionals keep telling me that you can overcome video problems if you have good audio which this video does.  And the foreground is done well.  Only strange people like me watch the background.

Race Conversation Dilemma:  At about 1:47, he says, "Just think how a politician or celebrity gets caught out.  It always starts out as a what they did conversation, but . . . they start doing judo flips and change it into a what they are conversation."

He doesn't tell us how to counter that manoeuvre.  Maybe one could say, I never questioned your character, I questioned your behavior, and that's on the record.  You're the one whose changing this to your character.  But that's a bit lame.  Any other thoughts out there?


  1. First response: no, the cut-aways are part of the action of the film to me. It's a busy-ness that the speaker is tied to and it works well for a media generation used to such tools. If anything, this video is an object lesson in how to do it right. I saw this video some time ago and was really struck by its freshness. Did the job for me and I remembered how to use its lesson for a long, long time. That's a good advert.

  2. Second response: Yes, the reply to the "judo-flip" may not be great, but I think we all need to simply say out loud, "But I'm still going to focus on what you said and how it affects me. I appreciate I don't know you."

    This is why this video is good. Why it is instructive as we seek to gain ground in changing minds as well as words. Of beginning to heal the old wounds. I only wish all of us had seen it here before a fascist walked into our lives just a few days ago in central London.

    In Europe, the bright ghosts of fascism rise in nationalism, in the ethnic right-wings of too many countries here. Ethnicity more often is the word of choice, a stand-in for what Americans call race, nationality for color. However, as Europe opens its borders to its colonial past, American concepts of race and color are becoming part of the definition, even among public intellectuals.

    But I want to get to a difficult, hate-shouting, throwing the fascist out of the meeting occasion I experienced recently. It quickly became not a matter of what the spokesperson for the 'Anti Democratic League' said to a group of multi-ethnic/racial university students, but a matter of who he was -- his personal embrace of what we loath from our history.

    It was one of the most ugly displays of angry voices I've heard since leaving the US. And it rose to such a fever pitch because he was seen as fascist, not only because he spoke to defend fascism. And yes, the anti-fascism officer (there is one) then threw him out of the room.

    But this video isn't about meeting the grand wizard of the KKK, is it? It's about the more common occasion of having heard something we know is wrong. We don't know the person who said it, perhaps, but we know what they said bothered us.

    In London a few days ago, I was in the room with a black-shirt fascist who proclaimed democracy unworkable and inferior to fascism. We knew enough about this person and his ideals.

    This video doesn't teach us what to do in this situation. I think that's where we get derailed too often. We think we know enough about the person to reject the person rather than the person's words.

    And maybe that's another point of this video. Thanks for posting.

  3. Jay, thanks for taking all that time to reply. Yes, this is for people dealing with every day type, ingrained, thoughtless racist comments. NOT for people who have embraced a racist ideology.

    I'm still trying to get a grip on the second group. Some are simply sociopaths who have no conscience. Or people who have been damaged through abusive childhoods. Or were born with limited thinking capacities. These are physical conditions and not something amenable to short term logic and may not be reversible at all.

    I'm working on the hypothesis these days, that most people who lash out at others are not happy with themselves and this attack on others is their coping mechanism. The issue isn't really the target (though they may have convinced themselves it is), but their own underlying problems. The ideal strategy here is to by-pass the presumed topic and to broach the underlying problem. "Sorry you're having a bad day."

    But a lot of factors play into whether that's a practical strategy in any particular situation. The key thing is that people need respect as people, even while we challenge what they say. (The point of the movie - what they did, not who they are.) So, taking them seriously as human beings is important and they have to believe that you do. That's not an easy thing to do (both actually respect them as humans and convince them you do), especially in the heat of what seems like hate and ignorance.

    Recognizing when one can fruitfully intervene and when one can't is a skill. In the middle of an 'event' is often not a good time. It's why just being decent to people in small everyday interactions is useful. Because when the crisis comes, you've already deposited respect into the relationship.

    We need, basically, societies where everyone is respected and the likelihood of people feeling dismissed as inferior is minimized.

    We have lots of work to do, don't we?

    Another option: Online, in comments like these, where one has time to pause, calm down, and think, one can engage in questions about what the person believes and gently ask for their supporting data and present your own contrasting data. But this only deals with what they believe, not the underlying reasons why they are blaming whole classes of people.


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