Today’s post examines a topic that grows out of recent protests against police violence against Black people: to defund the police. A common response to that demand, particularly from White people, is “How can you defund the police?! We need police protection from criminals!”
A teacher or discussion leader might next ask, “Is there more information on the idea of defunding the police? What do the protesters mean?”
A quick Google search could find the Black Lives Matter demand to defund the police. Their site explains that their proposal is to reduce and redirect fundingfrom police military equipment, training and practices that disproportionately target and incarcerate people of color.
So the demand is not to eliminate policing but to reinvest someof the billions in policing and incarceration to education, healthcare, housing, and employment opportunities. See a Black Lives Matter explanation at https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-defunding-the-police-really-means/.
But information alone is not satisfying when people have emotion—positive and negative—associated with the police, particularly along racial lines. At some point in the discussion, someone will want to share a personal story that carries far more weight than a rational argument. Tamping it down or sidestepping the issue communicates disbelief or unwillingness to listen to all the evidence, even a lack of compassion or racism itself. Jennifer Seibol Trainor’s study of White high school students demonstrates the strong connection between beliefs and emotion, that “the persuasive appeal of racist discourses is affective and emotioned, rather than logical or rational…rooted in local experiences and feelings that are given force in school” (2008, p. 3). People have stories that are as powerful to them as any data or expert authority.
So to avoid hardening someone’s beliefs in some incomplete or uninformed stance, the teacher or discussion leader needs to allow the emotion onto the floor, as scary and out of control as that might feel. When a story lacks important information, particularly when it includes bias and stereotypes, it is crucial to encourage other stories. Ask, “Does anyone have a different experience?” In a homogenous (predominantly White?) group that has insufficiently diverse experience, the leader may need to say, “There are other kinds of experience with this issue” and ask for a volunteer to research it. Another approach is to promise to bring in a speaker to share another viewpoint.
An idea (and related emotion) that might also come up in a discussion about Black Lives Matter and defunding the police is the stereotype that Black people, particularly Black men, are more dangerous and likely to be criminal. That too needs some additional information from the course content or outside research and probably some airing of emotions. I will take up that topic in another post at another time.
Regardless of the direction the discussion takes, the point is to be willing to challenge misinformation but to do it with compassion and respect for people’s emotioned experience and beliefs. That will keep the lines of communication open for more ventures into an antiracist understanding of the world.
For more information on using critical challenge questions as segue into race talk, see my book, Teaching and Race: How to Survive, Manage, and Even Encourage Race Talk (Lietz, 2020).
Lietz, I. M. (2020). Teaching and Race: How to Survive, Manage, and Even Encourage Race Talk. New York: Peter Lang.
Trainor, J. S. (2008). Rethinking Racism: Emotion, Persuasion, and Literacy Education in an All-White High School. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Photo by Alois Moubax from Pixels