Friday, April 17, 2015

“Trash Talk” Expert Honors Coffee House Conversations On Race Relations With A Beautiful Testimonial

I have been wanting to share the following letter that was sent to Sue deVeer, my Small “Zones of Peace” Project collaborator, and myself since we received it, right after our last Coffee House Conversation On Race Relations event, March 21.
Kathryn Ruud,

The missive that follows was written by Kathryn Ruud, a woman both Sue and I hold in the highest esteem. Kathryn is a noted scholar of linguistics,the study of language, and a peace and social justice activist of great repute. Her passion is exposing the damage to our society and politics of what she calls “Trash Talk.”
You can hear Kathryn’s very powerful message, Stop Polarizing Talk, on the subject on YouTube at this link.
Sue and I are very proud to have been honored with Kathryn’s participation as a member of our first panel for the Coffee House Conversations On Race Relations project. And, at our last event – as an ordinary, willing and touchingly vulnerable participant, especially in our small group conversations.
Kathryn’s letter to us is as follows, dated March 22, 2015.
We hope it will inspire you to want to know more about the power of what we are creating – and – possibly to even join our endeavors.
A letter from Kathryn Ruud
Hi Anastasia & Sue -

I was really impressed with the event yesterday, and I could tell how much work and thought had gone into the planning behind it. One thing I get over & over again in my talks on polarization is the sense people are looking for a way out of it. I am so encouraged by the DEPTH of understanding and practice you both are bringing to this effort. And I wanted to share this cut & paste of a Facebook post I made this a.m. (in which I including a link to your New Horizons web page, Anastasia):
"On one local conservative talk radio program last week, there was mention of organized community efforts to be pro-active in addressing racism in our community. Both the host and callers (likely all white) trashed these efforts, saying "if there is no problem, what is there to talk about?"

Quote from a local (Frederick News-Post) article on these efforts:

"It can be very uncomfortable," Capt. Jason Keckler, deputy chief of the Frederick Police Department, said of the conversations undertaken Saturday. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be had, he said. "We've made a lot of strides over the last several years, but we have a way to go. Things like this are a good part of that."

I was glad to see Capt. Keckler again yesterday, at the 2nd session of this ongoing conversation.

About 10% of the population of our main town in our community, located in Central Maryland, is African American. We also have a growing Hispanic population and a small Muslim population. Increasingly, locals hear Spanish (and other languages other than English) spoken. Needless to say, given that this area has been mostly homogeneous (white) since the founding of the country, this new blend of faces, languages and faiths is a challenge to traditional ideals of "community".

Yesterday I participated, again, in one of these local community efforts to bridge divides and to open conversations on differences. At least 3 uniformed officers (including one officer who was African American) and one former police official participated, and of the additional 25 or so persons there, perhaps a third considered themselves to be a part of a minority community of some sort.

We spent four hours together, first listening to a few speakers, then breaking up into small groups, where we were encouraged to tell our own stories: about our early experiences, whether ~ as children ~ we had encountered or understood the existence of racism, why we enjoyed living in this particular part of Maryland, and also our experiences in our town with differences across race, religion, etc.

So to the question, "What is there to talk about?," I'd say: plenty. And storytelling (about our own lives, our own experiences) does break down assumptions and stereotypes. The face-to-face aspect of these conversations is vitally important, as you are not just reading that story, but hearing it first-hand, and taking in the full experience of that person's expression of it: his/her gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc.

As the organizer of the event said, "An enemy is someone whose story you have not heard." 

With polarization in our society encouraged, inflamed and sold as part of a particular talk radio business model (and that includes programs broadcast by the station I mention above), it was refreshing to see people simply being together, enjoying each other's company, chatting across the divides. 

At the end of these smaller group sessions, I observed how people seemed reluctant to leave those groups, and to go back into an assembled audience. We had just made new and interesting connections with others. This program left me hopeful that at least some are tiring of the promotion of polarization, are hoping for a different way of communicating, and are actively committed to getting back to what is best about living in a democracy: being together and enjoying at atmosphere of mutual respect.

It is no accident to me that the organizer of these events, Anastasia Rosen-Jones, has training in therapy for addictive personalities. I personally see political, racial, religious polarization as a kind of addiction that needs some kind of intervention to be interrupted and diminished.

There have been several stories written in local papers about this community effort by Anastasia and her New Horizons Project. There is a bit about Anastasia's background here, as well as links to her radio program, should you be interested in learning more about this project."

I was thrilled, Anastasia, to hear you say you are committed to this effort for the long run.


No comments:

Post a Comment