Report From The Field--On Shutting Up
Updated: Jun 11, 2021
A few weeks ago, my philosophy students were neck deep in a unit on race. In one part of the unit they read an interview of Robin DiAngelo, and then heard from some of her most strident critics. I had students write a response. One white female student wrote: "After reading these articles and watching the interviews, I have learned something. Something that is arguably the most important thing taught in all of these conversations--
Dear white people,
SHUT UP AND LISTEN
Sincerely, The Silenced Minorities” She continued:
“The best way to learn is to simply shut up and listen. Take your foot off the gas and press down on the brake, hard." Well, you can’t really quibble with listening, hearing someone out, and slowing down. Hey, being slow to speak and quick to listen is generally good advice, and yes I admit in discussions on race many times white people jump in too fast without really understanding. But you can certainly quibble with what she expressed above. For example, watch John McWhorter torch the DiAngelo perspective, and watch Brett Weinstein and Heather Heying do the same. This student was one of the more progressive students in the class, so I’m not so sure this is something she learned along the way as much as it was something she already believed, but never mind that. My intention here in this post isn’t to dive into a deep critique of the DiAngelo way of thinking. The real interesting part came the next day in discussion. The next day I had them read a document of quotes from certain authors, some of who were critical of certain elite orthodoxies on race, some of whom were not. After reading a quote from a Congolese black woman who took issue with the statement 'all whites are racist,' this same student, who yesterday authoritatively declared that white people needed to “shut up and listen,” VERY quickly discounted this lady’s perspective. She DEFINITELY did not "shut up and listen," but confidently asserted that the black woman's perspective was complete crap. I asked her if she was confident in discounting this woman's “lived experience.” She replied yes. I find that ironic: when a black person's perspective agrees with the reigning orthodoxy, well, shut up and listen, but when a black person's perspective disagrees and calls the reigning orthodoxy into question, then they are full of crap and it is open season. The authors who question the narrative have "internalized oppression" or something like that. In conversations, we should really make folks like this student take their own rules more seriously. If they say white people should shut up and listen to the lived experience and perspectives of minorities, then hold them to that. Expose them to the many, many minority voices who push back against elite social justice narratives, and when your conversation partners react against these heterodox voices, remind them of their prior commitment to shut up and listen, and do not let them get away with suddenly changing the rules to protect their hide. If they really want to change their tune and reserve the ability to criticize the perspectives that don’t fit the mold, then gently point out that by the same token, it is ok to criticize voices that do fit the mold.