1.3 - Developing our Analysis - Navigating Deflection

1.3 – Developing our Analysis – Navigating Deflection (40 minutes)

Materials needed: Emotion posters

Purpose of piece:  To explore our readiness to engage in conversations with people who purport to care about racial justice, and yet continue to deflect conversations about race.

Facilitator’s Note: Post the emotion posters before the workshop begins. 1) Anxious, 2) Confident, 3) Embarrassed, 4) Confused, 5) Frustrated, 6) Angry, 7) Unprepared. (Feel free to create larger more colorful versions for yourselves as desired. The handout provides large font words on 8×11 paper for printing.)

You can create additional emotion posters as you wish. Depending upon the space available and size of the group, it may be equally effective to put the emotion posters on the floor or at different tables throughout the room

With this exercise it is common for people to resist making a discrete choice. Some people may stand in the center, refusing to choose. Others might stand in between two choices. Allowing this can work out just fine. However, if someone consistently stands apart, the risk is that facilitators might feel obligated to ask that person to speak about each and every scenario. This would allow that person to take up more sharing space and time than is useful for the group. Therefore, you may need to skip that individual standing apart sometimes, stating that you need to hear from those who haven’t yet had a chance to participate vocally.

Say to group: There are many people who have learned that the idea of being colorblind or post-racial is not valuable, or valid. These individuals often talk about how much they care about social justice, including racial justice. And yet, there are multiple ways that they continue to deflect challenging race conversations.

In order to prepare ourselves to engage conversations with people who deflect targeted race conversations, we are going to do an activity that asks us to think about the emotion we feel in different situations. To do this, as a scenario is read, consider what emotion you would feel if you were in the following situations and were expected to respond.  Go to the space in the room with the emotion poster that most closely matches how you would feel at this moment. Keep in mind that emotions can be complicated, mixed, or shifting. We invite you to identify one for the sake of the activity today, knowing that it might not fully resonate.

  1. A community member approaches you and says, “I just really don’t understand the push to use terms like white supremacy and privilege. They’re so divisive! I mean, the language is just really harsh, and it just makes people feel bad. That’s really no way to encourage people to pay attention to race, and I do think it’s an important thing for us to be talking about.”
  1. Over lunch, a group is talking about a recent talk that was given to their community which highlighted the value of transcending the troubles of the social world. It was clear that transcendence was considered a virtue, and the speaker holds a place of high esteem in the community. Some within the group began to build off of this lecture to lament that the community’s gatherings appear focused on the social/political world too much these days. They suggest that a return to more uplifting and inspirational presentations are needed.
  1. The news of the day is focused on a systemic issue negatively affecting people of color. Activist groups led by people of color are calling for change, and your community is gathering to talk about what to do, if anything. A particularly vocal community member chides the group for considering becoming supportive partners to one of the people of color-led groups, saying that they are focused too much on identity politics, and that they are mistakenly highlighting race, when they should be inviting people to participate on the basis of us all being human, that this is the only race that matters.
  1. You are talking with two community members about a recent controversy over hiring because, once again, a qualified person of color was passed over in favor of a white male. You mention how white norms (also referred to as white supremacist culture) might have played a role in the decision making. A white woman responds, saying that it probably isn’t really a “white” thing as much as it is a question of culture. At first it seems that she is drawing on class stereotypes to make her point. She then finishes by saying, “You know, some people are just louder, more in-your-face, and challenging. That can be off-putting, and it makes sense that a hiring committee would need to think about whether a person’s style would match the group.” Another person immediately says, “We really can’t second guess people on a hiring committee since we don’t have all the information.”

Discussion questions: (10 minutes per scenario)

  1. Why are you standing where you are?
  2. What questions could you ask to learn more about why these individuals feel as they do?
  3. What aspect of the person’s view can you validate and uplift?
  4. How could you create a “both/and” approach to further the dialogue?
  5. For faith and/or spiritual-based communities: What faith/spiritual principles guide or support you in these situations?

Facilitator’s Note: A significant challenge we face is the “either/or” mindset. We might struggle in that the individuals we encounter may exemplify an “either/or” perspective. It’s just as possible that our own commitment to our point of view is experienced as an “either/or” position. This activity is intended, in part, to help people recognize that their first inclination may be to argue, persuade, or convince instead of listening to create a shared understanding. The point of this activity is to highlight an alternative, asking questions, locating something in the person’s position that has some merit, and speaking from a “both/and” position.

Wrap up: It can be frustrating to talk with people who deflect conversations away from race. Approaching the situation from a “both/and” perspective can help. Instead of immediately discounting what the person has to say, try to uplift the merit of the person’s suggestion while also offering another idea. Although this may feel like a stretch and somewhat inauthentic at first, leaning into the discomfort and trying to find a way to connect your view with someone else’s may result in a new insight.