The reactions to the Department of Justice’s decision to not charge police in the shooting death of Alton Sterling have divided largely along racial lines. Baton Rouge like many cities was racially segregated at its founding.Although the city has undergone “desegregation,” in the last several decades clear racial divisions exist most vividly with Florida Blvd as the racial dividing line.
Many institutions and individuals have either ignored their roles in this continued division or looked for ways to explain it or justify an unacceptable situation.Often people wonder what difference talking about these racial divisions can do to make real lasting positive change. Given our name, we obviously believe that talk/dialogue does change things. It matters though what kind of talking it is. Dialogue done badly likely does more harm than good. We work hard at developing a dialogue that is functional and well-fitted to the difficult conversation of race. One thing we do know is that the dialogue must take place outside of a rush to act or in the mist of highly charged, anxiety filled times. In those times, myths and misunderstandings and old unaddressed issues are bursting through, and the dialogue will be ill-informed.
Webster states, dialogue “seeks understanding and harmony.” In the educational process we use called the Dialogue On Race Series, we stress understanding; which may or may not lead to harmony. However better understanding has a powerful impact that can lead to changes; changes that benefit everyone.The attempts to address racism in Baton Rouge have not kept pace with the growing problem.
The fear of explosion and violence is a symptom that says we all know something is wrong. Instead of looking for ways to explain that “wrong,” we need to look for ways to understand the problem. What has caused the problem and why have we let it go on so long? We also need to ask why so many have stayed quiet, avoided it, or believed that the problem of race has gone.
Yes we need dialogue but we need dialogue done well. Dialogue on Race Louisiana’s core program, the Dialogue on race series is not just any conversation. The magic of the Dialogue on Race Series is that it is structured, facilitated, backed with factual information. It is formatted to set a safe environment for open, honest, brave conversation.
The DOR Series is a highly specialized form of discussion that imposes rigorous discipline on the participants. The series begins by defining the terms used. You have to have a common understanding of the terms being used.
When dialogue is done well, the results can be extraordinary; long-standing stereotypes can be dissolved, mistrust can be overcome, mutual understanding achieved, vision shaped, grounded in shared purpose, new common ground discovered, new perspectives and insights gained, bonds of community strengthened.
When Baton Rouge solves institutional racism, the sharp line of racial division will end. Also protest will not be seen as something to fear, instead it will be recognized as it is meant to be; a tool of a free society.
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