Sunday, November 19, 2006

Respecting each other through dialogue

Last night I attended a film club, sponsored by a local non-profit. The film they showed was about three mothers who had lost their sons to police brutality, yet all of the police officers walked away with no convictions.

Knowing there was a facilitated discussion afterward, as I watched the film I anticipated talking about whether or not people feel that type of uncontrolled police brutality is happening in our communities and, if so, what we can do to deal with it. I thought about the great conversation I had with the Chief of Police of my area and her willingness and openness to admitting that her officers make errors, then our continued conversation about how she is working to deal with those issues. She was honest and did not strike me as a person to defend her officers if they were in the wrong. The Chief and I talked about how that honesty could go a long way in building trust in our community.

Instead, the facilitated discussion was much different than I had expected. The man leading the discussion started off by talking about White "Crackers" with an intensity that I have never heard before. He talked about White imperialism and his disgust with White establishment. As he opened up discussion, other people spoke up with similar comments.

As the only White person in the room, needless to say, I was uncomfortable with the conversation. I didn't know how to respond or react. It didn't seem to bother the people there. They spoke as if I were invisible to them.

I couldn't get the event off of my mind as I drove home. How do I get myself in these situations? The people who invited me don't seem openly hostile toward White people, but it was obvious that there was a lot of anger and hurt in that room. I debated in my mind if I should even be a part of something that seemed to me to promote separatism.

It was still on my mind when I woke up this morning. I talked to a friend of mine who mentioned she had been in a similar situation, but reversed. She was the only Black face in a sea of White people who were complaining about and irritated with Black folk.

I have come to a realization. Maybe attending events similar to that is something I/we do need to be a part of. Yes, it made me uncomfortable. But it also helped me to see the intensity of the pain and hurt that still exists. I need to hear that.

Being there doesn't mean I agree with a separatist agenda. In fact, I am very opposed to that. But how can we ever get to the point of creating dialogue and hearing each other if we don't engage with people who may not have the same ideas as us?

Some of my best relationships have come out of open (sometimes loud and angry) disagreements with people. In the situations I can think of, respect and deep friendship developed when we finally both listened to each other and realized that each person's thoughts and opinions stemmed from their own experiences. Once we realized that, we began looking at situations from each others' perspectives and gained a new respect and interest in each others' thoughts and opinions.

Though I don't believe last night's forum would have been the appropriate place for me to stand up and voice my disagreement with what was being said, being there does provide me with the opportunity to talk to my friends who were there and seek an understanding of their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Then, if they are open to hearing me, which I have no reason to believe they wouldn't be, it would allow me to also present my thoughts, feelings, and opinions as well. Maybe by placing myself in uncomfortable situations I can have the courage to open myself to conversations that would've never happened otherwise.

My idealism says that it is possible to create meaningful dialogue where we will be able to hear and learn from each other.

Feel free to join in.
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