The Spectrum/Dialogue Concept Is Key To Power


Of all the concepts I have been cultivating at this blog, the spectrum/dialogue concept might be the most important. Progressives lose power because we don't handle the business of social change skillfully. Conservatives have it easy: they just fall back into past patterns. We have to constantly be digging new ground.

The litmus test concept does not serve well. Either you are good or bad. Either you are racist or not racist, sexist or not sexist, homophobic or not homophobic. This concept is in vogue. And it ends up hurting us electorally. The concept does not speak to the richness of social change. Social change is not a multiple choice question for most people. Most people feel like wherever they stand on race and gender is where the center of the known universe is, and no further conversation is necessary.

So what is the spectrum/dialogue concept? I have touched upon it, but I have not had a chance to elaborate on it. And I don't think I am quite yet ready to truly elaborate it, but I will try and offer a glimpse.

Let me build the first draft of a spectrum on race.

(10) You are the Buddha of race relations. You have attained enlightenment. You have an intimate knowledge of the entire spectrum. But you are safely ensconced at 10. You have a deep knowledge of cultural diversity, and race relations history. You have seen where it all came from, you know where it is going. You are the ultimate. You literally have zero racism in your heart and mind. You can really see individuals for who they are. You have an in-depth knowledge of the collective identities of individuals from all sorts of backgrounds. You are it. People like you are rare. Maybe you are the only one. Cultural and racial diversity to you is like the physical universe to Einstein. Your heart and mind soars with it.

(9) You are more numerous than the 10s. You are near enlightenment. You have taken care of the heart part. But you still have a lot of work to do at the level of the mind. You do not have an iota of hate or discomfort that can be called racial. But your knowledge has some major gaps. You might never become a 10, but you are never going to stop working towards it either.

(8) You are totally cool with diversity. You are so cool, it is not even an issue. Some of your closest bosom bodies just so happen to be from different backgrounds. You are so politically correct, you don't really work it, it just comes to you. You live in a town or city with a liberal reputation. You just naturally gravitated. Discussions on race relations to you are no different from discussions on social security or medicare. You don't fear the Chinese and the Indians. You have family members who are from other backgrounds, and they get bored when you try to discuss race. They are not white, but they are not into it. They would rather discuss movies and sports, even the news. But there is a lot you don't know. You do speak a second language. But you have not been to every country on the planet, for one. You are a political progressive, way out there, but that does not mean you have a rich knowledge of the backgrounds of all those people you don't dislike or don't hate. Genuine cultural differences in attitudes sometimes catch you off guard, and you get thrown off balance.

(7) Dating people from other backgrounds is no big deal to you. But your closest friends just so happen to be white because well, at college, most people just so happened to be white. It was statistical.

(6) You sing all the right tunes on policy. But you are not sure if America should some day stop being the superpower. At some level you have that discomfort. You feel a little insecure when you look at the economic growth rate numbers for China. But black folks are cool. You like rap.

(5) You vote Democratic, but you are borderline or race. It is not like there are major policy stands you take that make people suspicious. It is in your social choices and attitudes and in your blatant ignorance. You hang out with the 4s and the 6s. You feel like you are truly the center of the universe on race. Those lefty loonies drive you nuts. If they had their way, all the white women would marry all the black men they could find, and there would be no women left. But you are a big fan of FDR, the Kennedys, MLK, the whole stock of them. You say you are liberal on social issues. You are even for affirmative action.

(4) You make it a point to tell people you are not a racist. The generation before you might have been, but times have changed, and you have too. You even have a few black friends. And you tell people that is so. But if there was ever an ideologue against affirmative action, that is you. You are ahead of the curve on that one. You are so anti-racism, that you are anti-affirmative action, you tell people. Physical segregation is over and you are glad it is over, but you practice social segregation, only you don't have the vocabulary for it. You are Republican, but then so is Colin Powell, you tell people.

(3) You think hate crimes are illegal, and hate speech is indecent. And you don't have the time for it anyways. But you have really weird ideas about what people from other backgrounds are like. You think Africans live in the trees, and the Chinese are out to take over the world, that is why there is Walmart. If there is a stereotype out there, you subscribe to it. You don't necessarily avoid people from other backgrounds, but when you do and ask them questions so as to learn more about them, they are really amused every single time. They can't believe the words that come out of your mouth. And you learned about the Eskimos from comic books a long time ago.

(2) You don't commit hate crimes, because you don't like the idea of jail time. But you just can't stand them. What you can not in terms of hate crimes, you compensate for in the form of hate speech. You don't socialize with the "other." You don't like it when anyone you know socializes with the "other." And you make yourself heard.

(1) You commit hate crimes. You think of committing hate crimes. You speak hate words in every other sentence. You blame the "other" for all your private and not so private shortcomings. When you are in the presence of the "other," you might as well be on another planet. And it does not feel exotic to you. You cringe. You dislike. You hate. You give money to hate groups. You attend secret meetings. You maintain hate websites. You are probably a Nazi. You dislike people from other backgrounds so much you also, by extension, dislike women in general. You avoid sunlight. You have few friends, all of whom are also at this end of the spectrum. You fear the white race might go extinct. And if it were not for your various nefarious efforts, it just might. You are on a historic mission. This is a do or die struggle for very survival. You hope future generations will appreciate your efforts even though you don't feel awfully popular among the current breed of folks. You think the federal government is a conspiracy.

What are the lessons to draw? It is not black and white, it is an entire spectrum. A few people might jump from 4 to 7, but most people will only go up one ladder at a time. That really helps manage change. And every 10 years or so, the spectrum will look different. And there is no one diagram for the spectrum. You could write down your version of what you think the spectrum is. Or you could modify my version. It is all open source.

For electoral reasons, you draw it in a way that if you get all the people from 5-10 to vote for you, you win a majority. That is key to near permanent power.

Once you get the basics right, you can then think of ways to accelerate the upward mobility of the population. And there is a lot of room for innovation and creativity there. Like a lot.

What is the dialogue concept? It is not easy to get people to talk about race. Just to get them talking is a challenge. But get to it. That is how you decide where they fall on the spectrum. That is the first part.

The second part is I am proposing dialogue is the best, most productive way to help people move up the ladder. This is not about convincing people, or pushing them. This is about plugging them, this is about helping them help themselves.

Is dialogue the only way? No. Is dialogue the best way? No. Sometimes you just have to draw the boundaries, and uninvite people from your personal space. If you want them out of your face, you want them out of your face.

Dialogue is not recommended in the case of hate crimes. You call the police.

I hope someone draws the first draft of the spectrum on gender. And perhaps a spectrum on internalized racism and sexism.

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