How do we “talk to them”?

Noah, it is not a feeling. It is a fact and that was the topic of a video of the British entertainer Jonathan Pie. It is not true in the USA only but in the western countries in general.

“Talk to them!” was the punchline of Jonathan Pie when he reacted after the Trump’s victory. He denounced that people who expresses conservative opinions tend to be silenced by left-wing militants who say immediately they are racist or sexist. He added that the silenced people get frustrated and they showed up at elections day. Therefore, every time people are astonished, for example at the brexit referendum, because they did not see this silent mass coming at the polls.

According to Jonathan Pie, left-wing militants should try to talk to people who have conservative opinions. They should accept to debate with them. The intuition is simple: if we want to change someone’s mind, we have to choose a confrontational approach. This idea was confirmed by new research as explained vox:

In 2016, researchers stumbled on a radical tactic for reducing another person’s bigotry: a frank, brief conversation.

The study, authored by David Broockman at Stanford University and Joshua Kalla at the University of California Berkeley, looked at how simple conversations can help combat anti-transgender attitudes. In the research, people canvassed the homes of more than 500 voters in South Florida. The canvassers, who could be trans or not, asked the voters to simply put themselves in the shoes of trans people — to understand their problems — through a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation. The hope was that the brief discussion could lead people to reevaluate their biases.

It worked. The trial found not only that voters’ anti-trans attitudes declined but that they remained lower three months later, showing an enduring result. And those voters’ support for laws that protect trans people from discrimination increased, even when they were presented with counterarguments for such laws.

The vox journalist added in his article that the media called out Trump as racist was not deterrent to prevent people voting for him.  Moreover, an other study showed that white people who were told that their group would become a minority in 2042 were more likely inclined to vote for Trump.  The researchers call this “racial anxiety”. It is explained by the fear of people who are different. This fear is fuelled by ignorance. The canvassing for the trans rights campaign show that talking with people about their fear and what they do not know is efficient to decrease this “racial anxiety” significantly.

An other point highlighted by the researchers who lead this study is empathy. It is something that I have noticed once. I was talking with a young male strongly opposed to feminist movements. The discussion was on twitter and like most of the time on social networks, it was very harsh. However, he told me he was attacked by a crew of four guys who racketed him. I told him immediately that I was sorry for him about this terrible aggression. Then, he was persuaded of my good will. He opened his mind at least and he moderated his comments. It is an echo to an other point of Jonathan Pie who talks about “persuasion”. It is very particular because it is not about convincing someone with logical arguments. It is about what the person feels and that is very complicated. Feelings are not purely rational so it requires to adapt to the person to understand one’s fears and how to contain them. We have to acknowledge that people even from privileged groups might have problems which worth to be considered. It is important to show empathy about it and that we care about it.

The vox journalist told there is two drawbacks. First, internet does not create a favourable environment to empathy. We do not see the humans behind the screens. Conversations tend to go out of control quickly. We are easily more aggressive with people we do not  know and we will never meet. Second, these discussion are difficult and time-consuming.

The difficulty arises because talking with someone bigot or racist needs tact. I have an anecdote which is striking. In New Jersey, a lot of uber drivers are retired men who do this because their pension is small. Among them, there is a non negligible numbers of uneducated white men. Once, I met a pro-Trump driver few days after the election results. He told me first that he would never visit French because as a Jewish person he did not want to visit a country which as anti-Jewish policy. I knew that if I attacked him directly or if I try a long explanation about why he was wrong, I would lose. What I answered was “you know, whatever the government is, the Eiffel tower will be always beautiful”. He laughed and the he qualified his statement. I won a first victory, he began to put things into perspectives. Then, he told me about the mess about refugees in Europe. I just answered him that “situation was good in most refugees host centers and most of the refugees I have met are honest person. For example, I met lone mothers who cared about their children”. I know it is cheap because it appeals to feelings and I used an anecdote. However, it worked. With someone reasoning with feelings, you have to think with your own feelings too. Do not forger if a person engages in a frank debate with you, she already showed empathy toward you. Therefore, you have to use this empathy to make your point. You have to talk to her with simple words and non aggressive punchlines. The aim of the last ones is to show the contradiction of your opponent’s reasoning. You could do humour as I did with the Eiffel tower or just bring a simple fact: “In the USA, you do not have borders with the middle east so you can check refugees before they go in”. It is what I answered when he told me about he attacks in France. I told that most of them were home bred (he acknowledged that). Moreover, the false passport is not an issue if there is a precise check in contrary to the overcrowded Greek hot spots. Nonetheless, this conversation was very difficult. First, it is hard to hear erroneous or racists comments. Second, my driver was talking about facts I never heart about but which looked false. For example, when I was talking about the checking of refugees, my interlocutor told me about the TSA which found only 5% of the items in a test. First, it is a diversion to switch from people to luggages. Second, I could not get more precision about the test and how it was handled and by whom. That’s a big problem. These people have their own news and talk about facts which are likely not accurate. The problem is that you do not know about these facts so it is very hard to judge. Therefore, it is hard to dismiss it as a hoax. Finally, I was arrived at destination and my uber driver thanked me for the conversation. I hope just by talking to him with making kind humour and simple punchlines to show his contradictions, he would have open his mind a little bit.

However, there are limits to discussion and not all Trump supporters were silent as highlighted by a comment to the Jonathan Pie’s video:

What you are getting wrong in this perspective is that it ignores the fact that trump was the one flinging insults. It was trump saying Mexicans were rapists. It was trump making fun of the the infirm. It was trump being the schoool yard bully. It was trump spreading hate. So i can’t understand how you twist that perception to somehow project poorly on Clinton. Further, the republicans have consistently been the party willing to harbor haters – those who “in the name of god” need to allow for racial profiling, “protect the family” from the
LGBTQ community, just to name a few. Trump took it to new extreme by publicly enunciating the hatred and vitriol. So, no, Clinton and us liberals are not to blame. Allowing our communities to cultivate an immoral “hidden” hate in the “name of god” is to blame. Hate is to blame. Hate shouldn’t be a family value. But apparently it is to the 25.6% of the American voting population who voted for Trump. The only thing we can do as liberals is be louder about the importance of *actually moral* family values as opposed to pseudo-moral hogwash wrapped up in an envelope of “in the name of god”.

Moreover, there are some people who voluntarily fuelled hatred. These people have to be fought. I think in particular to the alt-right which tries to make mainstream fascist ideas by using internet memes in particular.

The Trump campaign integrated clearly these alt-right militants in its core. As progressive people, we have to fight that. When Trump hires Bannon, we can not be silent. We can not accept this white supremacist spreads his venom.

These people are also known to use harassment methods. We have to fight these people full of hate and their horrible methods. I agree that one error that antifascist militants can do is to mistaken people with conservative opinions for far right militants. It is why we have to be careful.

To summarize, I would have two points:

– Talk to people with the biggest empathy possible to persuade them. It is important to acknowledge issues people are facing to create this empathy links which opens the mind of the interlocutor. It is better to make humour and to show contradictions of people with simple punchlines to make them think by themselves.

– With one exception for the far right militants who are committed to spread racist and sexist propaganda. I will never talk with these agents who fuels hate. I will make no compromise with alt right or any kind of far right.

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