Engaging in courageous conversations
November 21, 2019
In this piece for the Together We Are blog, Andrew B. Campbell, Adjunct Assistant Professor at Queens University, shares a set of recommendations to navigate the difficult conversations that lead us to positive change.
After being involved in a number of conversations at workshops, conferences, and in classrooms, I wish to share eight of my personal principles. Five are postures and positions I have developed throughout my practice over the years, and the other three are from Singleton & Linton (2006).
Share Your Story
Black people, like myself, visible minorities, LGBTQ, Indigenous and the “othered” who do this work, often feel the need to be careful and cautious, often doing this work within predominant white spaces. Storytelling of others and self are powerful tools. Our lived experiences are valued. We live our stories. Often, our stories are situated and shared in deficit ways. It is therefore important and empowering to tell my own story. It is often one of the most courageous things we can do as we engage as our authentic self.
Come prepared to Learn
As I engage in courageous conversations, I am always prepared for learning. So much is happening and very fast, and it is therefore essential that we engage in these conversations from an informed place. Ignorance is poison to a courageous conversation. In the last three years, I personally have had so much learning around historical contexts, terminologies, identities and cultures. I am always excited to add something new to my toolbox. Learning is a change in behaviour brought about by an experience. How are we are changing?
Come Prepared to Unlearn
This process of unlearning is personal and calls for us to be reflective and reflexive about what we know and what has influenced our knowing. Nothing is more wasteful than people coming to conversations with deficit, oppressive or discriminating views, and after much engagement, leave with those same views. They consciously refuse to unlearn since they know that unlearning may cost them some loss of power, loss of privilege, provide truths they were not ready to face and force them to acknowledge others.
Check your Biases
The work to dismantle biases begins with you. It is an internal process. Way too often, when we seek change, we engage in an over dependency on policies, statements, and another checked-box. What we need is for us to foster a greater sense of self-examination within our work, knowing that acts of courage are centered on the individual and not a system. We change to change the system. Who you are impacts how you lead.
How many times do we hear of an incident of racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, micro-aggression, or any of the many “sisms”, and we share sentiments of shock and surprise, maybe engage in social media commentary and we move on. We move on very quickly these days and force others to move on as well. I have heard this statement many times, “are we talking about race again?” and my answer is always, yes! As a black professor, I am constantly engaged in the discussions on race. I do not get to skip it or avoid it. Each day I arrive at school, I arrive as a black man. We have to also sustain the conversation for many others inflicted and affected by institutionalized oppressive and discriminatory practices. We have to sustain the conversation for those who are marginalized and disenfranchised. We have to use the power, privilege and access that we have to sustain those conversations.
Speak Your Truth
Speaking your truth requires a willingness to take risks. Growing up in Jamaica, in a very homophobic environment, I learned how to not speak and live my truth. I knew my truth was dangerous and could easily cost me my life, family, and career. Today, as I engage in the work of equity, I am reminded of the power in truth, and I am also reminded of the possible danger in that very truth. Courageous conversations require truth – the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Courageous conversations will be uncomfortable at times. When I teach a class or deliver a workshop, and I sense that discomfort, I allow the participants to understand the value in that discomfort. I never hasten to change the topic or move away from it. I articulate the need to sit in it for a while. I remind them if these are issues that make us uncomfortable – imagine those directly affected and inflicted.
Move to Action
In 2016 Nike engaged in a courageous conversation and designed the first sport hijab to be worn at the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Toronto Raptors made history by being the first NBA team to have their own licensed line of the traditional Muslim head covering. We have to engage in conversations that are tangible – conversations that lead to change. We are big on conferences, workshops, seminars, councils, committees, symposiums and working groups. All that is necessary and needed, however, let us ensure our conversations are intentional and deliberate and lead to real action.