For many years, I have used the Pacific Education Group Courageous Conversations Compass as a framework in my training workshops for understanding how to engage more productively in discussions about race. It describes four quadrants for how people tend to react when issues of race come up. We each have our default quadrant, and meeting others based on their default quadrant is key to effective engagement. In July, I shared this compass with my UMass graduate students, almost all of whom are people of color. I was not prepared for their reactions, most notably when it came to describing the “intellectual” quadrant, the people who respond to racism with “show me the data.” In exasperation, several students reacted with something like the following:
“How many times do we have to show data to prove that racism exists? I’m tired of having to PROVE it; it’s an insult! And besides, the data doesn’t really seem to change anybody’s mind!”
This was a humbling experience for me. Maybe this tool that I thought was so useful isn’t all that I thought it was. And it reminded me, once again, how far apart we so often are in our experiences, perceptions, beliefs and needs, based on where we are racially situated. This distance is how far we have yet to travel in the work of dismantling racism, the long haul work.
Some of us have a tendency to divide the world into those who “get it” and those who don’t. If this rings true to you, I challenge you to remind yourself that “getting it” is a lifetime or two of work when it comes to understanding and dismantling racism.