We recognize that voicing one’s opinion can have social consequences for both the speaker and those listening. Not to mention the fact that speaking in front of a large lecture hall is frightening as hell even when you know what you’re talking about.
That said, we would like to offer up some guiding points to keep in mind for when you speak your mind.
1. Acknowledging the concept of race isn’t racist, but attaching characteristics or generalizations to race can be.
To identify someone as Black or African-American is not problematic, but saying that someone is Black so they must be ______ is an issue.
2. Assume good intent. In a classroom setting, it’s safe to assume we are entering the conversation with a desire to share what we know and learn what we don’t know — not hurt anyone’s feelings.
3. Ask questions. Don’t pretend to understand someone when you can ask them to explain their point in a way that makes sense to you!
4. Take space, make space. Please participate in conversations, but be mindful about allowing those whose voices are typically underrepresented a chance to speak — especially when they can personally speak to the experience.
Frankly their experience can oftentimes be as or more insightful than any amount of academic perspective you may provide.
5. Speak from the “I.” Speak personally from your experience, not the experiences of others.
This may look like, “In my experience as a Black man I have felt…” Whereas one would not want to say, “Black men feel ____” unless citing related academic content.
6. Don’t expect the single person of color, immigrant, LGBTQ person or conservative in your class to volunteer themselves as spokespeople, or tokens.
Don’t look to minorities to speak for the entire population of groups with which they identify, plain and simple.
As long as you are cognizant of your role in the conversation, you should never be afraid to offer your thoughts. We should all speak honestly, practice open mindedness and strive for understanding.