by Andreas Chenvainu
As part of an effort to combat racism, Bergen Community College hosted a webinar by antiracist educator Dr. Warren Chalklen
The webinar discussed how to hold productive conversations about race. was divided into three sections, an explanation of racialized trauma and the brain, conversations, and a Q & A at the end.
Chalklen started the first section by presenting a slide with an example of when the flight or fight response is activated, the rational part of the brain that takes in new information shuts down, and the reactive part of the brain perceives itself in danger.
According to Chalklen, understanding this effect is important to changing minds. “We have to understand that when we enter into conversations, that are for some people feeling unsafe–that makes them unsafe, their ideas of the world are shaken–what we have to understand is the biology that occurs in the brain,” he said, referring to the diagram. “That’s going to help us keep the person here in the perception space.” He states it’s important to keep people listening, and not reacting, to “begin to transform perspectives.”
Confronting someone who holds racist beliefs directly, according to Chalklen, will likely not change their opinion. “Actually, what changes their perspective is that they feel safe with you. They feel like you’re not judging them.” He continued. “I’m not saying this is easy,” Chalklen said. “I’m just giving us the context.” He posits that racist beliefs are connected to traumas or other negative experiences, and according to him, this is a key detail to creating change.
Chalklen laid out why it’s important to understand this psychology. If the emotional responses to racial trauma and the psychology of racism can be understood, then productive conversations can be had, and racial traumas can be healed.
The second section consisted of information about techniques that can be used to challenge racism in everyday life. For intervening against microaggressions, Chalklen suggested people highlight what was wrong with racist statements, and try to educate people to do better. For conversations with friends, he suggested using the R.A.C.E. method, which consists of reflecting on conversation strategy, asking questions to learn about someone else’s beliefs, connecting with the person, and expanding their mindset by highlighting the contradictions in their statement for them to grapple with. He also informed those in attendance to stay aware of attempts to deny, diminish or deflect during uncomfortable conversations about race.
Finally, the seminar closed with a Q & A for the students attending virtually and in person, where he answered questions about racism and techniques to combat it.