The Facebook conversations about race are still ongoing. Time and time again, I’ll watch a friend post an article and watch the feeding frenzy of comments that immediately follow. Almost every conversation follows the exact same script. The Post happens (chum in the water). The comments start. The conversation ends up going nowhere. Normally because there is one person who is staunchly against something in the article and that person becomes the hinge point of the conversation. Maybe because they have 5 extra hours to chat on FB, maybe because they are louder than everyone else. I don’t know what the real reason is, but the conversation quickly becomes about that person and his feelings. And everyone gives up on the conversation.
In an effort to get more productive dialogue out of such conversations, here are some suggested Rules of Engagement that can help you be a productive contributor to any FB conversation whether you are talking about race, climate change, or 90’s R&B.
Let’s say the discussion that you’re about to have is like going on a Car Rally and the ultimate destination is Richmond. You’re stoked about it and ready to get on the road. Where do you start?
Step 1. Read the Article.
I don’t mean skim the article. I don’t mean read until you find points that you wish to argue about and then immediately join the conversation. I mean read the article in its entirety. Remember, we’re going on a car rally! This is your entry ticket to the rally. It has the basic guidelines of what we are discussing. If you don’t have your ticket – you can’t participate. In fact, you’re going to throw all of the other Rallyers off with your nonsense. How will we ever make it to Richmond if you keep bumping into our cars and trying to get us to go to Roanoke?
Step 2. The Rules of the Road still apply. This car rally thing is super exciting, isn’t it? So exciting that you are tempted to forget the basics like following the speed limit or staying in your lane. Guess what? Those rules still apply. This means that all the reading comprehension skills that Mrs. Duckworth taught you in the second grade are a requirement. You can’t/mustn’t/shall not do creative interpretation with the article. No reading between the lines. No arguing about something that’s not the theme. Let’s do a practical exercise here so that I can show you what I mean.
Cats Steal Souls by Clark S. Kent
Yesterday, my cat Elvira ate my soul. I know that she ate my soul because I weigh 2.8 lbs less this morning than I did yesterday. And, I feel hollow inside (i.e. soulless). You cannot trust cats. Ever. Cats are, in fact, the devil incarnate. Think about it — they have horns and a tail. If you wake up tomorrow and are 2.8 lbs lighter then you will understand my pain. The End.
It seems pretty clear from reading this absurd article what the author is trying to convey. Most articles seem like this actually until you post them to Facebook. Then is becomes a free-for-all in interpretive reading. Because now you’re in the car rally and some person is going to enter and completely neglect the stop sign at the corner.
What?!? I hate dogs. Yesterday, my girlfriend’s dog was in the dog park and just kept running in circles and then I tried to put leash on it and it bit me.
The Car Rally stalls at this point as everyone tries to explain to the guy who can’t follow basic traffic signs what the article is saying.
We’re not talking about dogs. We’re talking about how cats are soul stealers. Sometimes I’ve actually asked: what article are you reading right now? At this point, you’re never going to make to Richmond because the cops keep having to pull you over and give you tickets for various infractions.
You can totally not agree with the author’s belief that cats eat souls. You can even feel strongly in your disbelief, but you can’t ignore stop signs or you will completely derail the Rally.
Step 3. Keep Your Feet and Feelings in the Car.
Some idiot is going to cut you off in the course of the Car Rally. Some joker is going to be riding in the far left lane at 55 mph and you’re going to be stuck behind an 18 wheeler. No matter how much you may want to, you cannot run him off the road. Because this is just a Car Rally – it’s actually supposed to be fun or in the case of a discussion, productive at the very least. If you start calling names and insulting every person that you don’t agree with, you’re never going to make it to Richmond. And it will be super awkward when we see each other at work tomorrow.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t disagree with others in the course of the discussion, it just means that name calling and getting angry is rather unnecessary. Treat other people with dignity and respect. If you can’t refrain from road rage then perhaps you shouldn’t be in a car Rally. On to feelings or the fee fees.
Maybe you feel that Roanoake would have been a better choice than Richmond. Or many you feel that you should have taken exit 7 instead of exit 12. That’s perfectly fine for you to feel that way. But the fact of the Rally is that we are going to Richmond and google says take exit 12. Your feelings don’t invalidate actual facts. Read that again: Your feelings don’t invalidate actual facts. This is by far the thing that upsets me the most during conversations. You feel that the author’s tone of voice or the title is condescending so you can’t discuss the article. Instead you’re going to solely focus on how the title or tone of the article made you feel. The entire conversation becomes centered around you and your feelings. Stop that. If I wanted to talk about your feelings then I’d post a picture of a couch and tag you in it. You can’t debate feelings so keep them in the car and out of the rally.
Step 4. Watch out and ignore the deer.
These type of conversations on Facebook are read by more than the five people participating in them. Most people are silently auditing the conversation, vehemently agreeing or disagreeing with the participants. Other people, however, see the conversation and think “oh look, a car Rally! Fun…” These people like the idea of the Rally, but don’t actually want to take to time to participate so they tailgate you or drive crazily besides you making the trucker gesture so that you honk your horn a acknowledge their excitement. These people post things to the conversation like “Hey, let’s all just get along, ok guys? Love from Texas!” or a random picture of a giant slurpee or some bizarre outburst that has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic at hand. These people are deer and they contribute nothing to the conversation. Swerve around and ignore them. Deer people: stay out of the road.
Step 5. Before You Comment
So, you’ve completed all the above steps– think you’re ready to participate in the car Rally? Not so fast. Here’s the thing: sure you just read that one article that I posted, but do you know anything about the topic?
What I find when I post about racism is a bunch of people who are excited to be in the car Rally, people who have a lot of feelings about racism, but very little knowledge or facts. Seriously. It gets to the point where every conversation goes down the same way. Everything’s not about racism, you’re racist because you’re talking about racism, black people kill each other all the time, black people can be racist too, ALL lives matter, there’s no such thing as white privilege (yes, there is). It’s like a broken record. The thing about this facile arguing is that a quick google search will lead you to so many well-thought out and researched blog posts, articles, theses, books, studies, big data, etc about racism (or any topic for that matter). And instead of doing the work and figuring out what’s going on, you’d rather show your ignorance (and sometimes your ass) on my FB page. I am in awe of the amount of people who feel comfortable commenting on something that they don’t know anything about.
Look, there are all kinds of FB conversations that I have no business being a part of: gun control, taxes, and anything to do with rap music to name a few. And not because I didn’t fully read the one article that my FB friend posted, but because I know NOTHING about those topics other than my fee fees. I have all kinds of feelings about guns and gun control, but very little facts which is why I don’t jump into gun control conversations. I also don’t google and learn more about gun control just to debate you about it because there are other things that I’d rather talk about (like racism). If there is a debate about gun control then I might audit the convo and try to learn something, but I don’t jump in the deep end when I don’t know how to swim.
Also, if the only reason why you join in the conversation is to “play the devil’s advocate” then let me suggest that you find a hobby or go watch House of Cards. I’m posting about this topic because I’m passionate about it and it means something to me not for your amusement or funzies.
In closing, I get that car rallies are super fun, but you don’t have to participate in every conversation. And if you got nothing else from this conversation, remember: you can’t debate feelings.
Godspeed out there. See you in Richmond.