A further response and reflection: Creating safe spaces for dialogue

It’s rare that a blog post receives much response. So, I was intrigued to notice that my last post  (a copy of my Letter to the Editor sent to the Vancouver Sun) had warranted reply from the original author. Intrigued or not, I must say that upon reading the response, I felt upset, particularly given the tone and unusual delivery and structure of the reply. Notwithstanding a long prologue, the columnist had partitioned my letter with individual comments, rather than allowing readers to look over it as a whole and make their own informed decision. The actions and words seemed over-the-top from a columnist with a much larger and more powerful platform from which to write from, with less dialogue around the content and more recrimination.

Since then, I’ve taken a break from the blog both to create a bit of distance in order to reflect on the posts, and then of course, deadlines and other commitments took their toll, so here I am, quite late in response, but with hopefully more thought and reflection.

I do continue to stand by my words and ideas. But I could have softened my tone, and I admit it can be easy to forget the person behind the words when taking ink to page, or in this case, key press  to webpage.  Such is the case with the easy vitriol of internet commentary. Since I don’t intend to make this a space for learning and discussion about the implications of systemic or structural racism, as there are better fora available, I think it safe to say, given  Mr. Todd’s stated view that “unconscious racism is not really racism”, that we will indeed need to continue disagreeing.

Upon reflection, where I would really like to turn my attention to instead is the space, and sort of attention, that we as a society devote to the kinds of subjects like race. Serious, subtle, and uncomfortable issues. Because let’s face it, it’s not exactly a topic for light chit-chat in the elevator on in line at the coffee-shop. It’s all too easy for these kinds of conversations to strike a chord – often of discomfort.

Similarly, racism is something that is felt as much as is heard; that sinking feeling of discomfort, from being out of place, or from being informed, however so innocuously, that you are out of place. It’s often layered, multi-directional, and complex. It’s easy not to notice racism, and when you do – especially in our own actions – it’s also easy to build resentment from the constant reminder. For myself and others, it is easy to take the path of least resistance not to notice, or if you do, not to confront it.

When we feel uncomfortable, for whatever reason, it is easy to get defensive, angry, or upset. It’s easier not to listen, to close our minds from new information. What I’m hoping for to think about is more how we as individuals and a society need to have a safe space – in whatever or all forms- emotional, physical, digital –  to discuss these kinds of issues. Where we can walk the line of dialogue and discomfort without attack.

It is unfortunate that it appears so few of these kinds of spaces exist.  The Province and Tyee published interesting pieces on race a while ago, with lots of commentary. But too often, comment boards are not “safe” spaces to have such discussions as people tend to hide behind the anonymity of their keyboards, and type things they would never say in person. So instead of conversation, we get confrontation and polarization. I’m wondering – instead, how can these online spaces spur us to have these difficult discussions in our actual lives where we might promote some understanding and compassion? What kinds of changes need to take place? Something to think about.

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