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.