White Noise: Why we need to stop talking about the SAE video

Dialogue is difficult, but never dangerous. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all of the ways we exercise our freedom of speech.

In the two weeks since the SAE video was revealed, we have expressed fear, outrage, disbelief, chagrin, dismay, utter ignorance and, perhaps the most powerful sentiment, a lack of surprise. As an alumna of the University of Oklahoma, I was proud of President Boren’s actions. As someone who wandered the South Oval filled with optimism about the future, inspired by professors who were changing the world, I felt such disappointment. As a professional in student services, I looked to OU’s student population to gauge the damage that had been done. And as an Oklahoma-born white woman, I was reminded of how far we have to go.

This post is not about how I feel about the incident with SAE, nor is it an attempt to defend or condemn the university, the state or the country in which it occurred. Rather, it is a plea for dialogue and a hope for what that might look like.

So, I’ll repeat: Dialogue is difficult, but never dangerous. Dialogue is constructive, never destructive. Speech, however, can be both of those things. Speech is our attempt at creation – at making ideas reality – and it is incredibly powerful. Humans have built nations and incited revolutions with speech. We have created allies and destroyed civilizations with speech. The First Amendment protects the ability of every U.S. citizen to create – it does not sanction those creations. Let’s use our right to free speech to create community rather than division and to foster compassion rather than hate.

Let’s begin a dialogue rather than a discussion about race in the U.S. Discussions can easily devolve into verbal contests with each participant vying to be heard and understood. Dialogue requires, first, that we listen. It requires us to be mentally still and immersed in the perspective of another before speaking. Dialogue requires that we learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable because only then can we move past defensiveness. It requires complete honesty and ownership of our biases, latent or otherwise. It requires, above all else, equal participation.

A dialogue about race in the United States will require that Caucasian-Americans stop talking. Listen. Because dialogue can only be constructive speech when we acknowledge our need of each other. We don’t build cities alone. We don’t raise children or create families alone. We don’t heal wounds and create community alone. So we must all be part of this dialogue. We don’t get to verbally pat ourselves on the back for being progressive and racially sensitive, and then quietly step out of the conversation because racism really has nothing to do with us. Racial discrimination is our problem and eradicating it will require our participation.

So, before you share this on Facebook or Twitter with a blurb about the incident at OU, please ask yourself – are you ready to listen?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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3 thoughts on “White Noise: Why we need to stop talking about the SAE video

  1. The kind of dialogue you are describing sounds like a conversation between peers, people of equal status/rank/power. Given both the legacy of slavery and genocide and the ongoing oppression of people of color (through stated sanctioned violence, police brutality, economic discrimination, criminalization, etc..) what context do we have for entering into dialogue as peers? Put another way, what kind of conversation can I possibly hope to have with someone who is trying to kill me? I’m not saying conversations (and listening) aren’t important. But I think whites need to prove through our actions that we can listen without doing harm. The burden is on us to act, not just talk about how it makes us feel.

  2. Great point Allana. We teach children and adults how to speak, but do we ever teach people how to listen? Listening is such a key skill in life and learning. This is a great call to action, not to start talking but instead to listen. I would like to suggest we even go a step further and ask questions. I feel I learn the most when I stop listen and ask questions.
    Thank you,

  3. I would respectfully disagree strongly with your framing of this issue Allana, echoing some of Liz’s points, but applaud you for raising the issue. The central problem I have with your argument is claiming the problem is one of dialog. People of color have been demanding white folks talk about race since we enslaved Africans hundreds of years ago and they continue to do so today. The problem is not dialog, it’s power and racism, neither of which will change by talking about it more.

    If we are serious about these incidents, what we need are systemic, institutional changes at the level of politics and economics. The ‘politics of talk’ is what made Starbucks’s #racetogether a pr disaster, because it once more posited solutions to institutional racism as just requiring more talk.

    Jay Smooth had a great piece on this exact point that I encourage everyone to watch, right here. Yes, we should be talking about it, but what we really need is not more dialog, it’s more action!

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