Fruitful Conversations About AEDI (Anti-Racism Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion)

A question on my mind about AEDI (Anti-Racism Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) is how we can have fruitful conversations with people about these topics. The difficulty is not in trying to educate a group of people who are already interested in these topics – It feels like preaching to the choir. (Haha.) But what about people who don’t have an interest or opinion about these topics? Or people who don’t believe or are aware that their actions or words are hurtful? There are two concepts that I would like to explore that are helpful tools to help reframe the impact of someone’s words, and another to help facilitate spaces where these kinds of conversations can happen. 

Often when someone is called out their response is usually “ I’m not XYZ,” “That wasn’t my intent” or “You’re taking it the wrong way.” We are met with defensiveness which makes it more difficult to have a discussion. A question we can always ask is; does our intent matter more than the impact if it furthers the marginalization or oppression of others? The core of this is learning the difference between “Impact VS Intent,” understanding effective communication and the removal of an ego. We can separate these two as “who they are” (Intent) and “what they did” (Impact.) Generally, and hopefully, most people don’t intend to be racist, because if that was their intention then it would be a reflection of who they are – a racist. If we reframe their statements to their impact, which is what they did, then it’s easier to help some understand that what they did was hurtful. It is a lot easier to lay out someone’s racist actions, rather than guess and prove their motives and intentions. 

The second is the concept of creating safe spaces and brave spaces. There are scholars that believe that while safe spaces are essential they create echo chambers and intellectual isolationism. Whilst marginalized communities have created safe spaces for themselves and are able to have their voices heard, other communities feel threatened that they are unable to oppose those ideologies and sequester them by creating their own safe spaces. This is where we can see a rise in incel groups, neo-nazism, and the alt-right pipeline. The concept of a brave space is to promote intellectual diversity through transformative learning and intentional disorientation. Brave spaces require a specific set of rules to work; 

  • “Controversy with civility,” where varying opinions are accepted “Owning intentions and impacts,” where we acknowledge and discuss instances where a dialogue has affected the emotional well-being of another person
  • “Challenge by choice,” where we have an option to step in and out of challenging conversations 
  • “Respect,” where we show respect for one another’s basic personhood “No attacks,” where we agree not to intentionally inflict harm on one another 

While these studies and concepts have been focused on campuses and their solutions and mainly apply to classrooms, and campus activism we can learn more productive communication skills from these rules. Reacting in anger and the resulting defensiveness seldom help arguments or facilitate constructive discussion and certainly make it difficult for you to persuade someone to “see your point.” By understanding these rules and making it known to the other party, we can facilitate a more productive discussion. 

While I believe that people’s anger is valid, I don’t believe that anger is a great place to start a discussion. And I completely understand that within these interactions there is a lot of nuance, anger, and hurt. I also think that not everyone has the ability to be able to have these conversations effectively whether it is because of temperament, knowledge or skill. Using these two tools I believe that it enriches our ability to create connections within the divisive climate that we are currently in. Sometimes in the AEDI journey of restorative justice, it’s all too often that the point of an argument is to win. That ends up only feeding the ego. Instead of focusing on winning we should focus on healing. 

Report Submitted by Kristian Lo – Member at Large, RESOUND Choir Board of Directors


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