Political and Racial Dialogue
Views from a Conflict Resolution Expert
By Danyah Al Jadaani, CRI Staff, MA '21.
There is no denying that the Trump Era has exacerbated political and racial division in the United States. Many people are concerned about how the country will recover from this painful time, instead of becoming more deeply divided. The New Yorker touched on this very topic in a Q&A session with Paula Green, the lead organizer of Hands Across the Hills, a group that tries to create dialogue among Americans of varying political beliefs.
Paula Green is used to working in war-torn countries plagued by ethnic violence. However, after the 2016 election, Green took an assignment closer to home with Hands Across the Hill, a conflict resolution group in the United States. One of the first projects brought participants together from Western Massachusetts and Eastern Kentucky in efforts to begin conversations among different communities with hopes of creating understanding and collective action. With Green's extensive work abroad, she can give valuable insight into whether dialogue can heal not only our politics, but our country as well.
When asked what she has learned from her work overseas that can be useful here in the United States, the first thing Green mentions is the demonization of others. Green notes that "...what we're seeing in this country is a tremendous amount of dehumanization and the deteriorating intergroup relationships across all lines of race, class, religion, culture, geography, etc. " Anyone currently living in the United States can feel this division, from the hate of the "other", to the "us versus them" attitude.
People often seem torn between wanting to correct misinformation in order to change the other person's mind and wanting to listen but afraid that listening might be interpreted as agreement. According to Green, listening is the most important part:
"In the interaction with people, in the learning to listen, in the learning to be respectful, in the learning to not be judgmental of them, the listening can happen. If we try to do the shifting without any listening, it doesn't work. It's not possible for people to suddenly wake up and change their minds. Change happens through gradual shifts, and those shifts happen in human relationships across the divides."
Green is not painting listening as a magic cure-all that will unify the country. She does breaks it down by explaining that through listening you are learning, and when you are learning about those you see as "other" you are learning to care about them and their struggles. This is not the same as agreeing, but rather, when we understand someone better, we begin to see them as a fellow human being.
To read the full Q&A and watch Dialogue between the group from Kentucky and the Group from Massachusetts