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← How to resolve racially stressful situations

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Showing Revision 8 created 02/21/2018 by Brian Greene.

  1. There's an African proverb that goes,
  2. "The lion's story will never be known
  3. as long as the hunter
    is the one to tell it."
  4. More than a racial conversation,
    we need a racial literacy

  5. to decode the politics
    of racial threat in America.
  6. Key to this literacy is a forgotten truth,
  7. that the more we understand
  8. that our cultural differences
    represent the power
  9. to heal the centuries
  10. of racial discrimination,
  11. dehumanization and illness.
  12. Both of my parents were African-American.

  13. My father was born in Southern Delaware,
  14. my mother, North Philadelphia,
  15. and these two places are as different
    from each other as east is from west,
  16. as New York City is
    from Montgomery, Alabama.
  17. My father's way of dealing
    with racial conflict
  18. was to have my brother Bryan,
    my sister Christy and I in church
  19. what seemed like 24 hours a day,
    seven days a week.
  20. (Laughter)

  21. If anybody bothered us
    because of the color of our skin,

  22. he believed that you should pray for them,
  23. knowing that God
    would get them back in the end.
  24. (Laughter)

  25. You could say that his racial-coping
    approach was spiritual --

  26. for later on, one day,
  27. like Martin Luther King.
  28. My mother's coping approach
    was a little different.

  29. She was, uh, you could say,
    more relational --
  30. right now, like, in your face,
  31. right now.
  32. More like Malcolm X.
  33. (Laughter)

  34. She was raised from neighborhoods

  35. in which there was racial
    violence and segregation,
  36. where she was chased out of neighborhoods,
  37. and she exacted violence
    to chase others out of hers.
  38. When she came to Southern Delaware,
  39. she thought she had come
    to a foreign country.
  40. She didn't understand anybody,
  41. particularly the few black and brown folks
  42. who were physically deferential
    and verbally deferential
  43. in the presence of whites.
  44. Not my mother.
  45. When she wanted to go
    somewhere, she walked.
  46. She didn't care what you thought.
  47. And she pissed a lot of people off
    with her cultural style.
  48. Before we get into the supermarket,

  49. she would give us the talk:
  50. "Don't ask for nothin',
  51. don't touch nothin'.
  52. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?
  53. I don't care if all the other children
    are climbing the walls.
  54. They're not my children.
  55. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"
  56. In three-part harmony:
  57. "Yes, Mom."
  58. Before we'd get into the supermarket,
  59. that talk was all we needed.
  60. Now, how many of you ever got that talk?
  61. How many of you ever give that talk?
  62. (Laughter)

  63. How many of you ever give that talk today?

  64. My mother didn't give us the talk
    because she was worried about money
  65. or reputation
  66. or us misbehaving.
  67. We never misbehaved.
  68. We were too scared.
  69. We were in church 24 hours a day,
  70. seven days a week.
  71. (Laughter)

  72. She gave us that talk to remind us

  73. that some people in the world
    would interpret us as misbehaving
  74. just by being black.
  75. Not every parent has to worry
    about their children being misjudged
  76. because of the color of their skin,
  77. just by breathing.
  78. So we get into the supermarket,

  79. and people look at us --
  80. stare at us as if we just stole something.
  81. Every now and then, a salesperson
    would do something or say something
  82. because they were pissed
    with our cultural style,
  83. and it would usually happen
    at the conveyor belt.
  84. And the worst thing they could do
    was to throw our food into the bag.
  85. And when that happened, it was on.
  86. (Laughter)

  87. My mother began
    to tell them who they were,

  88. who their family was,
  89. where to go,
  90. how fast to get there.
  91. (Laughter)

  92. If you haven't been cursed out
    by my mother, you haven't lived.

  93. (Laughter)

  94. The person would be on the floor,

  95. writhing in utter decay and decomposition,
  96. whimpering in a pool of racial shame.
  97. (Laughter)

  98. Now, both my parents were Christians.

  99. The difference is my father prayed
    before a racial conflict
  100. and my mother prayed after.
  101. (Laughter)

  102. There is a time, if you use
    both of their strategies,

  103. if you use them in the right time
    and the right way.
  104. But it's never a time --
  105. there's a time for conciliation,
  106. there's a time for confrontation,
  107. but it's never a time to freeze up
    like a deer in the headlights,
  108. and it's never a time to lash out
    in heedless, thoughtless anger.
  109. The lesson in this is
  110. that when it comes to race relations,
  111. sometimes, we've got to know how to pray,
  112. think through, process, prepare.
  113. And other times,
    we've got to know how to push,
  114. how to do something.
  115. And I'm afraid that neither
    of these two skills --
  116. preparing,
  117. pushing --
  118. are prevalent in our society today.
  119. If you look at the neuroscience research

  120. which says that when
    we are racially threatened,
  121. our brains go on lockdown,
  122. and we dehumanize black and brown people.
  123. Our brains imagine that children
    and adults are older than they really are,
  124. larger than they really are
  125. and closer than they really are.
  126. When we're at our worst,
    we convince ourselves
  127. that they don't deserve
    affection or protection.
  128. At the Racial Empowerment Collaborative,
  129. we know that some of the scariest
    moments are racial encounters,
  130. some of the scariest moments
    that people will ever face.
  131. If you look at the police encounters
    that have led to some wrongful deaths
  132. of mostly Native Americans
    and African-Americans in this country,
  133. they've lasted about two minutes.
  134. Within 60 seconds,
  135. our brains go on lockdown.
  136. And when we're unprepared,
  137. we overreact.
  138. At best, we shut down.
  139. At worst, we shoot first
    and ask no questions.
  140. Imagine if we could reduce
    the intensity of threat
  141. within those 60 seconds
  142. and keep our brains
    from going on lockdown.
  143. Imagine how many children
    would get to come home from school
  144. or 7-Eleven
  145. without getting expelled or shot.
  146. Imagine how many mothers
    and fathers wouldn't have to cry.
  147. Racial socialization can help young people
    negotiate 60-second encounters,

  148. but it's going to take more than a chat.
  149. It requires a racial literacy.
  150. Now, how do parents
    have these conversations,
  151. and what is a racial literacy?
  152. Thank you for asking.
  153. (Laughter)

  154. A racial literacy involves
    the ability to read,

  155. recast and resolve
    a racially stressful encounter.
  156. Reading involves recognizing
    when a racial moment happens
  157. and noticing our stress reactions to it.
  158. Recasting involves
  159. taking mindfulness and reducing
    my tsunami interpretation of this moment
  160. and reducing it
    to a mountain-climbing experience,
  161. one that is --
  162. from impossible situation
    to one that is much more doable
  163. and challenging.
  164. Resolving a racially stressful
    encounter involves
  165. being able to make a healthy decision
  166. that is not an underreaction,
    where I pretend, "That didn't bother me,"
  167. or an overreaction,
    where I exaggerate the moment.
  168. Now, we can teach parents and children
    how to read, recast and resolve

  169. using a mindfulness strategy
    we call: "Calculate, locate, communicate,
  170. breathe and exhale."
  171. Stay with me.
  172. "Calculate" asks,
  173. "What feeling am I having right now,
  174. and how intense is it
    on a scale of one to 10?"
  175. "Locate" asks, "Where
    in my body do I feel it?"
  176. And be specific,
  177. like the Native American girl at a Chicago
    fifth-grade school said to me,
  178. "I feel angry at a nine
    because I'm the only Native American.
  179. And I can feel it in my stomach,
  180. like a bunch of butterflies
    are fighting with each other,
  181. so much so that they fly up
    into my throat and choke me."
  182. The more detailed you can be,
  183. the easier it is to reduce that spot.
  184. "Communicate" asks,
  185. "What self-talk and what images
    are coming in my mind?"
  186. And if you really want help,
    try breathing in
  187. and exhaling slowly.
  188. With the help of my many colleagues
    at the Racial Empowerment Collaborative,

  189. we use in-the-moment stress-reduction
  190. in several research and therapy projects.
  191. One project is where we use basketball
    to help youth manage their emotions
  192. during 60-second eruptions on the court.
  193. Another project, with the help
    of my colleagues Loretta and John Jemmott,
  194. we leverage the cultural style
    of African-American barbershops,
  195. where we train black barbers
    to be health educators in two areas:
  196. one, to safely reduce the sexual risk
    in their partner relationships;
  197. and the other,
  198. to stop retaliation violence.
  199. The cool part is the barbers use
    their cultural style
  200. to deliver this health education
    to 18- to 24-year-old men
  201. while they're cutting their hair.
  202. Another project is where we teach teachers
  203. how to read, recast and resolve
    stressful moments in the classroom.
  204. And a final project, in which we teach
    parents and their children separately
  205. to understand their racial traumas
  206. before we bring them together
    to problem-solve daily microaggressions.
  207. Now, racially literate conversations
    with our children can be healing,

  208. but it takes practice.
  209. And I know some of you
    are saying, "Practice?
  210. Practice?
  211. We're talking about practice?"
  212. Yes, we are talking about practice.
  213. I have two sons.

  214. My oldest, Bryan, is 26,
  215. and my youngest, Julian, is 12.
  216. And we do not have time
    to talk about how that happened.
  217. (Laughter)

  218. But,

  219. when I think of them,
  220. they are still babies to me,
  221. and I worry every day
    that the world will misjudge them.
  222. In August of 2013,

  223. Julian, who was eight at the time,
    and I were folding laundry,
  224. which in and of itself
    is such a rare occurrence,
  225. I should have known something
    strange was going to happen.
  226. On the TV were Trayvon Martin's parents,
  227. and they were crying
  228. because of the acquittal
    of George Zimmerman.
  229. And Julian was glued to the TV.
  230. He had a thousand questions,
    and I was not prepared.
  231. He wanted to know why:
  232. Why would a grown man stalk
    and hunt down and kill
  233. an unarmed 17-year-old boy?
  234. And I did not know what to say.
  235. The best thing that could
    come out of my mouth was,
  236. "Julian, sometimes in this world,
    there are people
  237. who look down on black and brown people
  238. and do not treat them --
    and children, too --
  239. do not treat them as human."
  240. He interpreted the whole situation as sad.
  241. (Voice-over) Julian Stevenson: That's sad.

  242. "We don't care. You're not our kind."
  243. HS: Yes.

  244. JS: It's like, "We're better than you."

  245. HS: Yes.

  246. JS: "And there's nothing
    you can do about that.

  247. And if you scare me,
    or something like that,
  248. I will shoot you
    because I'm scared of you."
  249. HS: Exactly.

  250. But if somebody's stalking you --
  251. JS: It's not the same for everyone else.

  252. HS: It's not always the same, no.
    You've got to be careful.

  253. JS: Yeah, because people
    can disrespect you.

  254. HS: Exactly.

  255. JS: And think that you're,

  256. "You don't look --
    you don't look like you're ..."
  257. It's like they're saying
    that "You don't look right,
  258. so I guess I have the right
    to disrespect you."
  259. HS: Yeah, and that's what we call,

  260. we call that racism.
  261. And we call that racism, Julian,

  262. and yes, some people -- other
    people -- can wear a hoodie,
  263. and nothing happens to them.
  264. But you and Trayvon might,
  265. and that's why Daddy wants you to be safe.
  266. (Voice-over) HS: And that's why --

  267. JS: So you mean like,
    when you said "other people,"

  268. you mean, like if Trayvon was a white,
  269. um, that he wouldn't be
    disrespected like that?
  270. HS: Yes, Julian, Daddy meant white people

  271. when I said, "other people," all right?
  272. So there was a way in which
    I was so awkward in the beginning,

  273. but once I started getting
    my rhythm and my groove,
  274. I started talking about stereotypes
    and issues of discrimination,
  275. and just when I was getting my groove on,
  276. Julian interrupted me.
  277. (Voice-over) HS: ... dangerous,
    or you're a criminal because you're black,

  278. and you're a child or a boy --
  279. That is wrong,
    it doesn't matter who does it.
  280. JS: Dad, I need to stop you there.

  281. HS: What?

  282. JS: Remember when we were ...

  283. HS: So he interrupts me to tell me a story

  284. about when he was racially threatened
    at a swimming pool with a friend
  285. by two grown white men,
  286. which his mother confirmed.
  287. And I felt happy
    that he was able to talk about it;
  288. it felt like he was getting it.
  289. We moved from the sadness
    of Trayvon's parents

  290. and started talking about
    George Zimmerman's parents,
  291. which, I read in a magazine,
  292. condoned the stalking of Trayvon.
  293. And Julian's reaction to me was priceless.
  294. It made me feel like he was getting it.
  295. (Voice-over) JS: What did
    they say about him?

  296. HS: Well, I think they basically
    felt that he was justified

  297. to follow and stalk --
  298. JS: What the -- ?

  299. HS: Yeah, I think that's wrong.

  300. JS: That's -- one minute.

  301. So they're saying he has the right
    to follow a black kid,
  302. get in a fight with him and shoot him?
  303. HS: As Julian was getting it,

  304. I started to lose it.
  305. Because in my mind's eye, I was thinking:
  306. What if my Julian or Bryan was Trayvon?
  307. I calculated my anger at a 10.
  308. I found, located, my right
    leg was shaking uncontrollably
  309. like I was running.
  310. And in my mind's eye,
    I could see somebody chasing Julian,
  311. and I was chasing them.
  312. And the only thing
    that could come out of my mouth
  313. was if anybody tries
    to bother my child ...
  314. (Voice-over) HS: If anybody tries
    to bother my child ...

  315. mmm, mmm, mmm.
  316. JS: What will happen?

  317. HS: Well, they better run.

  318. JS: Because what?
    HS: I'm gonna get 'em.

  319. JS: See? (Laughs)

  320. HS: I'm gonna get 'em.
    JS: Really?

  321. HS: Oh, yeah.

  322. JS: Then they're gonna get you
    because they might have weapons.

  323. HS: Well, you know what, I'm gonna
    call police, too, like I should.

  324. But I feel like I wanna get 'em.
  325. But you can't; you're right,
    you can't just go chasing people.
  326. JS: They can be armed.

  327. HS: Yeah, you right. Yeah, you right.

  328. I feel like I wanna chase 'em.
  329. JS: Plus they could be
    an army or something.

  330. HS: I know -- I feel like I wanna
    go get 'em, messing with my son.

  331. I don't like that.
  332. JS: Um ...

  333. HS: But you right. You gotta be careful.

  334. And um, you gotta be careful.
  335. You never know what some crazy people
    will think about you.
  336. Just as long as you believe
    you're beautiful
  337. like Daddy believes
    you're beautiful and handsome,
  338. and Mommy believes you're beautiful
    and handsome and smart.
  339. And you deserve to be on this planet,
  340. just as happy and beautiful
    and smart as you want to be.
  341. You can do anything you want, baby.
  342. HS: Racial socialization is not just
    what parents teach their children.

  343. It's also how children respond
    to what their parents teach.
  344. Is my child prepared?
  345. Can they recognize when a racial elephant
    shows up in a room?
  346. Can they reduce
    their tsunami interpretation
  347. down to a mountain-climbing adventure
  348. that they can engage and not run away?
  349. Can they make a healthy
    and just decision in 60 seconds?
  350. Can I?
  351. Can you?
  352. Yes, we can.

  353. We can build healthier
    relationships around race
  354. if we learn to calculate, locate
    communicate, breathe and exhale
  355. in the middle of our most
    threatening moments,
  356. when we come face-to-face
    with our lesser selves.
  357. If you take the centuries of racial rage
  358. that boils up in all of our bodies,
    minds and souls --
  359. and anything that affects our bodies,
    minds and souls affects our health --
  360. we could probably use
    gun control for our hearts.
  361. I just want what all parents
    want for their children
  362. when we're not around:
  363. affection and protection.
  364. When police and teachers see my children,
  365. I want them to imagine their own,
  366. because I believe if you see
    our children as your children,
  367. you won't shoot them.
  368. With racial literacy, and yes, practice,

  369. we can decode the racial trauma
    from our stories,
  370. and our healing will come in the telling.
  371. But we must never forget
  372. that our cultural differences
    are full of affection and protection,
  373. and remember always
    that the lion's story will never be known
  374. as long as the hunter
    is the one to tell it.
  375. Thank you very much.

  376. (Applause)