Introduction to Listening Module

If white allies are to use empathetic listening and dialogue to expanding the perspective of skeptics, they will need to focus on making them feel that their dignitiy has been honored. This is something that often does not happen now between anti-racism allies and racism skeptics.

The Harvard scholar Donna Hicks, who has done diplomatic and conflict resolution work around the world, says that ”Dignity is the desire to be treated well. It is an unspoken human yearning that is at the heart of all conflicts, yet no one is paying attention to it..” Hicks’ years of experience teach her that the key to shifting people to a mindset of collaborative problem solving around an on-going conflict is to make them feel that their dignity is being acknowledged by the other side.

But what exactly is dignity?

One definition of dignity is “the quality of being worthy of esteem or respect.” Hicks goes further and says that dignity actually has 10 component elements:

  1. Acceptance of Identity — Approach people as neither inferior nor superior to you; Assume they have integrity.
  2. Recognition — Validate others for their talents, hard work, thoughtfulness, and help; give credit to others for their contributions, ideas and experience.
  3. Acknowledgment — Give people your full attention by listening, hearing, validating and responding to their concerns and what they have been through.
  4. Inclusion — Make others feel that they belong at all levels of relationship (e.g. family, community, organization, nation).
  5. Safety — Put people at ease at two levels: physically, where they feel free of bodily harm; and psychologically, where they feel free of concern about being shamed or humiliated, so that they feel free to speak without fear of retribution.
  6. Fairness — Treat people justly, with equality, and in an evenhanded way, according to agreed upon laws and rules.
  7. Independence — Empower people to act on their own behalf so that they feel in control of their lives and experience a sense of hope and possibility.
  8. Understanding — Believe that what others think matters; give them the chance to explain their perspectives, express their points of view; actively listen in order to understand them.
  9. Benefit of the Doubt — Treat people as trustworthy; start with the premise that others have good motives and are acting with integrity.
  10. Accountability — Take responsibility for your actions; if you have violated the dignity of another, apologize; make a commitment to change hurtful behaviors.

Clearly, racism undermines the dignity of people of color.

Ironically though, to move people who deny the reality, the anti-racist movement must afford racism skeptics dignity. Too often, white allies interactions with racism skeptics are missing some key elements of dignity. Specifically:

  • Acceptance of identity – Too often, anti-racist advocates don’t accept the validity of people who have identities connected to what we see as bound up with racism, such as the identity of “political conservative.”
  • Acknowledgement – Too often, anti-racist advocates respond in ways that don’t make people with racially conservative views feel heard.
  • Safety – Too often, anti-racist advocates quickly label racially skeptical views as “racist” or “white supremacist.” Within progressive racial discourse, these terms are used to signify the pervasive racism that has been used to divide and oppress people of color for hundreds of years. Within mainstream parlance, these terms stand for old-fashioned KKK level bigotry. This disconnect on language has serious consequences.
  • Understanding – Too often, anti-racist advocates too often don’t actively listen to racial skeptics, and approach conversations about race from a place of a hunger to “explain the truth” to them instead of taking in how the skeptic sees the situation.
  • Benefit of the doubt –Too often, when advocates try to “prove” that unconscious bias affects many people, they do not say this is true of themselves. As a result, skeptics feel that accused of not having good motives and are not acting with integrity.

Conversations with racism skeptics are fraught many ways. Why should an anti-racist advocate of color be expected to give understanding to a person who denies a basic reality of life that affects millions of people?

White people in the anti-racism movement need to be the ones engaging racism skeptics.

But they must do so smartly….which means using empathetic listening.

The listening module contains a number of reflective exercises that white allies need to engage in before they attempt Reflection-Connection Method proposed by this project.


The Listening Module content is coming soon