There you are, a facilitator in Canada or the United States, sitting in a circle or at the front of a classroom, explaining the history of oppression and colonialism, or why racism and white supremacy is basically synonymous, when someone raises their hand– or often times straight up interrupts you:
“But what about China’s history of colonialism?”
“But what about how different African and Filipino tribes took slaves?”
“But what about how Japan is racist to other peoples?”
“But what about how Arab countries are sexist?”
Here we go again.
The problem with these questions is that, if the person who asked them isn’t from there, they seem to come from an emotional place that is
- terrified of blame and guilt, so they need to subconsciously or actively deflect and derail what they perceive is blame being put on them,
- determined to undermine the credibility of the facilitator because they don’t like you or don’t like seeing you as some kind of “authority” due to their own oppressive or biased views, or
- a combination of the two.
The sad part is most folks who ask these questions don’t actually see themselves as trolling you or being micro-aggressive, they may actually see themselves as being genuinely curious or playing “devil’s advocate”. As an exorcist, I have more respect for people who think they’re being curious than for folks that declare themselves an advocate for the devil, to be honest. But, anyway…
So what do you do? Here’s some tips that come from a place where you assume the best, i.e. that the person actually believes they’re being curious: 1) start the workshop already framing the focus and purpose of the learning for a North American activist context, 2) remind folks what local activism and anti-oppression means, and 3) ask the querent how they intend to work in solidarity with the activists in the areas that they’ve mentioned.
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[Image created using Canva. Image description: The background is black. On the left side of the image is a photograph with muted colours of baby blue, fuchsia, red, yellow, and rose pink. In the foreground of the photograph are two pale hands holding out a small colourful globe of the planet Earth. The words in white beside the photograph, in between two line separators, are the following: “”BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER PLACE?!” 3 Tips on Dealing with “The Other Place” Derailment in a North American Context.”]