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#blacklivesmatter—Now How Do We Talk About It?

Just before Christmas 2014, three of the founding members of The New Ground Project had the pleasure of collaborating with relationship expert Marcia Baczynski in a panel discussion on practical, effective tools for talking with people you love about the #blacklivesmatter movement and the stories of structural violence and police brutality that (in part) motivate it.  In less than 24 hours, we put out an invitation for people to listen in and send their comments… and over 150 people did.These tools have stayed relevant in our cultural climate, especially around the holidays. Here is the original invitation, a recording of the panel and the resources we put together, for you to use in your own conversations with your loved ones.


The Invitation

from Kimberly McCrae, Amber Butts, Tatyana Brown and Marcia Baczynski

The violence feels like it’s escalating. Or maybe you know that we’re finally starting to pay attention to a crisis that’s been taking lives for centuries. Between the non-indictments, the marches in the streets, and the mounting list of names of black people needlessly murdered by police officers and vigilantes, the impulse to do something (ANYTHING) to help has become urgent and impossible to ignore.

But it’s not just the big “political” gestures that can shift our culture towards justice — it’s individual, careful conversations with people who trust and love each other enough to listen even when it’s painful and scary. As baffling as it might be, it’s important to realize that there are still people who don’t see the problem. Some of them sit at the same dinner table as we do during the holidays.

These are the people that each of us have the most potential to reach.

There’s a lot at stake. Family relationships are notoriously complex as it is. If we bring up something too charged, too heated, we are potentially risking relationships with people we care about deeply. Talking about things that matter to you might get you written off and/ or ignored. And these concerns extend past biological family. Old friendships often have tremendously valuable history and shared connection. The thought of losing these, of causing a rift, of fundamentally disagreeing can seem like reason enough to tread softly, stay silent or avoid the topic altogether.

On the other hand, you’ve come to the conclusion that race, white privilege, the systematic devaluing of black lives, police violence, and so on are urgent and necessary to talk about. You are wading through your own anger and grief about these things. You are listening, reading and coming to terms with a reality you may not have been aware of until recently. You want the people you care about to know what’s going on. You can see the house is on fire and that things need to change. You may not know what to do about it, but silence and inaction are no longer an option. You feel the urgency of the situation and it is intolerable for things to stay the way they are.

And you feel stuck.

What do you do? How do you bridge these two realities? How do you talk to people who matter to you without circling the drain of rage, misunderstanding or alienation? How do you lead with love and communicate your feelings on racism and oppression without harming yourself at the same time? Is it even possible to have a productive conversation with loved ones on such a charged subject?

We think so. Not all the time, and certainly not perfectly. But yes, sometimes. And we think it’s worth it to try.

“We” are a group of activists, friends, writers, creators and educators who are committed to talking to the people we love about the difficult, relevant reality of #blacklivesmatter. In the process, we have found some things that seem to work. Join us for a Google hangout panel discussion on practical, effective tools for talking with people you love about Ferguson, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, race and #blacklivesmatter.

During the hangout, we will be sharing our thoughts on how to:

– Get clear on your intentions, figure out where your loved one is at, and assess the right approach and info to reach them.
– Recognize when the person you’re talking to is getting resistant to the conversation or things are going off the rails, and what to do about it.
– Choose language appropriate to the situation and stay accessible without compromising your values.
– Open up the conversation about race and #blacklivesmatter when no one is talking about it.
– Choose your battles and figure out where to put your energy.
– Take care of yourself when it gets hard, know when you’re getting burnt out and keep the conversation going for the long game.

In addition, we’ll be sharing examples of conversations that have been successful and a resource guide for going into more depth. (NOTE: These tools should work well in conversations with casual friends and colleagues, too.)

The Discussion

Further Resources

Our living document with loads of resources to help you talk with the people you care about, about Ferguson, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, race, white privilege, and #blacklivesmatter.

About the Panelists

Kimberly McCrae is the Program Coordinator for the Duke Women’s Center. She is an educator, minister, performance artist and a humanitarian. She brings a wealth of information and experience concerning social advocacy, education, activism and social justice.

Amber Butts is a Bay Area based writer, activist, and student. She enjoys cultivating workshops on identity, relationships and self-love with young teens and has worked at Saint Mary’s College’s Women’s Resource Center. She helped found The Lounge, a monthly open mic that focuses on providing space for students and faculty of color to express themselves in a safe, oppression-free environment.

Tatyana Brown is the founder of The Lit Slam and The Mad Scientist Writer’s Lab. She is a touring poet and educator, and has spent the past two years developing communication workshops to help folks with lived experience of privilege interrupt their trained behavior and actually listen with deference and respect.

Marcia Baczynski is a communication coach and sex educator who has worked with thousands of clients around the world. She helps people find the emotional core of difficult conversations and communicate more clearly about what they really want, in order to foster more intimate relationships.

This is an incredibly hard conversation, but one that is necessary. Join us, listen in, ask questions and help keep the conversation going.