Ten tips for navigating tough discussions about Ferguson at the dinner table

The following were compiled by four wonderful student activists at Princeton University.  The basic ideas, of course, can be applied to conversations about topics similar to Ferguson.

Holding your ground on Thanksgiving Day

Ten tips for navigating tough discussions about Ferguson at the dinner table

By Christina Chica, Marina Nogueira, Claire Nuchtern and Hannah Rosenthal 

  • Assess your audience.
  • Understand that all of our identities, backgrounds and experiences inform our perceptions and opinions.
  • Think about how those at the table identify in terms of race/ ethnicity, socioeconomic class, political ideology, education level, etc.
  • Assess the atmosphere.
  • Is this the right setting to have this conversation?
  • Is there enough respect to have the conversation openly?
  • Are those at the table amenable to disagreement or will this set people over the edge right now?
  • Be respectful.
  • You may potentially alienate yourself, so tread carefully if speaking to individuals with whom you have close ties, such as family and close friends.
  • Don’t use the people of color in the room as “expert informants.”
  • Ask questions.
  • What have you heard?
  • Where have you learned this information?
  • Have you thought about what you think/how you feel about the situation?
  • Share your feelings.
  • Be honest and open about what has affected you and why.
  • Find something you can agree on.
  • Loss is a tragedy.
  • None of us were there so we can’t say what exactly happened.
  • Correct false information and focus on core facts.
  • There is a difference between indictment and conviction.
  • Emphasize that this is about more than Ferguson.
  • Direct conversation to:
  • unfair/racist portrayal of black people in the media, particularly the unequal portrayal of individuals engaged in criminal activity
  • systemic racism: slavery, Jim Crow, under-resourced schools, barriers to voter registration, neighborhood agreements to keep blacks out of desirable housing (restrictive covenants), employment discrimination
  • prison industrial complex: racial profiling, police brutality, unfair sentencing
  • guns: England, Wales, Scotland, Norway are countries with unarmed police forces
  • Don’t be afraid to offer alternative viewpoints.
  • Respond to discussions about rioting and looting
  • Have the media portrayed this fairly?
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
  • People riot at sporting events.
  • In the area of mostly black businesses where rioting has happened, there has been almost no police presence. Many members of Ferguson’s black community have joined together to protect their own communities from looting and to negotiate with protesters.
  • Property is not equal to life.
  • Be courageous and confident.
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