As I mentioned last weekend, I recently began studying the Greek language. My husband and his family (who hail from Athens) had previously taught me a few basic words, but until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t tried to learn the language in any disciplined way. The main reason is that my husband and his mother, sister, and brother-in-law all speak English, so I can communicate with them just fine in my own native language.
Still, that felt a bit lazy on my part. And now that we are planning a trip to Greece, I want to be able to read street signs, say hello to any non-English speakers I encounter, and ask the kinds of questions one often needs to ask when traveling. My husband will be there to translate for me, but there’s a certain satisfaction that comes from being able to speak and read at least some of the local language when traveling.
We humans like to place people into buckets: good and bad, left and right, us and them. This seems to be an age-old tendency, and it isn’t all that surprising that the rise of social media and the proliferation of news and opinion platforms have allowed our divisions to become more entrenched and more apparent. We can choose to read and listen to only those sources that affirm what we already feel and believe, and we can respond to those who disagree while protected by a screen that keeps us from seeing and experiencing their humanity, their emotional reactions. Our quickly typed words can be amplified through shares and retweets, carried far beyond the small circles that might once have heard them.
Many, manypeople have writtenabout the heightened state of polarization in which we live these days, lamenting how destructive it is and postulating about what led to this environment. It is distressing and disheartening. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The public radio program On Being, as part of its Civil Conversations Project, recently aired an interview called “Repairing the Breach” (transcript). The show featured a white male Libertarian leader of the Tea Party movement, Matt Kibbe, and a black female millennial progressive leader, Heather McGhee, discussing how we can engage difference and better understand each other.
Near the end of the show (at 44:30), Heather brought up a conversation she had with Gary from North Carolina on a C-SPAN call-in show last year. Gary called into the show, admitted to being prejudiced, and explained why he thought he held certain attitudes. Then he asked Ms. McGhee how he could change, “to become a better American.” McGhee thanked him for his honesty and offered suggestions such as getting to know black families, reading books about the history of African-Americans in the U.S., or attending a black church. The video clip went viral.
I listen to a lot of podcasts while driving, working out, and doing chores around the house. In this weekly feature, I’ll tell you about one episode I particularly enjoyed that week.
My recommendation for this week is On Being’s episode Eula Biss–Let’s Talk About Whiteness. You may have heard On Being on your local public radio station. It’s a Peabody Award-winning show hosted by Krista Tippett that explores the question, “What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?”
In this episode, Krista and writer Eula Biss talk about race, the language we use to discuss it, aspects of privilege like opportunity hoarding, and how we might start conversations about these things. It’s a thoughtful, frank, and insightful discussion.
Race is a subject that often provokes strong feelings. I encourage you to approach this interview with an open mind and to observe any emotional reactions that arise in you as you listen, whatever they may be.
Is there a podcast you think I should be following? Let me know in the comments, send me an email, or tweet using #LexListens.