Dr. Roxy Manning guides readers through an effective, efficient model of dialogue that utilizes concepts of nonviolent communication and helps normalize talking about racism.
Can a person be both fierce and compassionate at once? Directly challenge racist speech or actions without seeking to humiliate the other person? Interrupt hateful or habitual forms of discrimination in new ways that foster deeper change?
In How to Have Antiracist Conversations, Dr. Roxy Manning offers a new approach to antiracist dialogues that shows how we can confront discriminatory behavior without sacrificing human connection.
The following excerpt from Chapter 1 introduces readers to the idea of the Beloved Community, as articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
What’s the Point? Dialogue for Beloved Community
When I was in my early twenties, I was in a car traveling on Highway 17 in New York, on my way to visit my boyfriend who lived in upstate New York. A friend was driving. We were having the kind of earnest conversations that twenty-year-olds have, letting our minds wander along with our hearts. My brother slept in the back seat, leaning against the window. The dark night and blurry scenery wove a cozy cocoon where we could all relax, enjoying each other’s company.
My friend and I were startled out of our cozy warmth when flashing lights jolted into view. A police car had pulled up behind us, following us. Did it want us to pull over? We looked at the speedometer—we were driving just a mile above the speed limit. We nervously pulled over onto the side of the road. The lights and sudden shift in movement had jostled my sleeping brother, and I heard him groggily attempt to make sense of what was going on. “Are we there already?” he asked sleepily, from the back seat. The officer tapped on the window before we were able to answer my brother. My friend rolled the window down and instead of receiving the usual request for license and registration, he was asked to step out of the car. The officer had his hand resting on his gun. They walked together out of earshot of the car. My brother and I sat in the car, confused and anxious, unable to make sense of what was happening. We watched the officer and my friend talk, at first with visible tension in their bodies. After a few minutes, I saw the tension slowly dissipate—the officer’s hand slid off his gun, his shoulders dropped, his posture relaxed.
My friend walked back to our car while the officer walked to his. I was even more confused. When my friend got back in the car, he sat quietly for a little while. The police car drove away, and then my friend started the car and we got back on the road. My brother and I kept asking him about what had happened, but he seemed reluctant to tell us. Finally, he spoke. But I could tell, as he was speaking, that he was wishing that what he was saying wasn’t real. “The officer saw us passing him on the road. He saw me—a white man—in the driver’s seat, and you next to me, a Black person. And he saw your brother in the back seat. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t being kidnapped.”
None of us knew what to say. I felt a rush of anger in my body: like a slap. Before I could really feel the anger, it became shame. Hot and overwhelming. I felt as though this officer’s racism meant I had done something wrong. I could tell my brother was vibrating with anger, but he didn’t know how to navigate what had happened either. We were all silent. We didn’t talk anymore about it, we turned the radio on and finished the drive in silence. This officer, who had seen Black folks and white folks driving together, couldn’t conceive of us as being part of the same Beloved Community.
After that incident I avoided any interaction with the police. Several years later, I was driving in a rural area, this time alone, again at night. As I took an exit ramp, I switched lanes on the ramp to make the left turn I knew was coming. Again, those flashing lights appeared in my rearview mirror. I was terrified. I took out my phone and called 911, telling the operator that I was being pulled over and was going to drive to a gas station so that I could stop in a well-lit place. As I drove three minutes to reach a gas station, I started trembling. By the time I parked and the officer approached me, I was shaking and crying, tears streaming down my face, taking hiccupy breaths. I didn’t know what PTSD was at the time, so I didn’t know how to soothe my dysregulated body. I felt so exposed, so unsafe. The young, white police officer at my window looked alarmed when he saw me.
“What’s wrong,” he asked.
“Nothing,” I stammered. He looked even more perturbed.
“Do you have a weapon? Are there drugs in the car?”
“No,” I said, tears streaming heavily.
The officer kept trying, confusedly, to reassure me. “You’ll be fine. Everything’s fine.” I continued to cry as he explained, “I pulled you over because you switched lanes on the ramp. You’re not supposed to do that.” He left without giving me a ticket. I sat in the brightly lit gas station, shaking and crying. In that moment I realized what was terrifying: I did not believe that this officer would see me, see my humanity. That he would see me as part of his Beloved Community, someone deserving of care. I was convinced he would see me as a threat, an outcast from his community, so that my life was in danger from his traffic stop.
As I write this, I hold so much compassion for each person in these situations. My white friend, who did not know how to respond when racism thrust itself into his sedate life. My brother and me, being reminded once again that even when we’re doing nothing at all—sleeping, chatting, riding in a car—someone who does not see us as part of their Beloved Community will make assumptions about us that could have had much worse outcomes. My traumatized self, being conditioned to not only believe that a white police officer would not see me as a person worth protecting, but that there was no way either of us could see each other as part of Beloved Community. And the officer, faced with a visibly scared Black woman with no clue of how to make things better.
I wanted to write this book because the idea of Beloved Community—a world in which my brother, my friend, the two police officers, and I all belong—has been so powerful a part of my journey, both for healing and as an activist for social change. I was first introduced to the idea of Beloved Community when I read these words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:
The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.
As I read various expositions on what Dr. King meant by Beloved Community, I came to an understanding that resonated with me. Beloved Community was, for me, family. Not Norman Rockwell characters gathered around a beautiful table full of food, laughing and smiling at each other with no apparent tension or conflict at all, or the families torn apart by the effects of generations of capitalism and white supremacy ideology, always sniping at each other and jockeying for status.
Rather, when I think of family as a metaphor for Beloved Community, I think of people, connected by love for each other, whose well-being is intertwined. People who see the full range of each other’s human expression, regardless of how we present—angry, sad, happy, scared, in pain. I think of people who know, at a visceral level, that regardless of how much money, resources, or social capital they have, they cannot be happy if anyone in their family is suffering. I think of people who truly understand interdependence, who know that their capacity to thrive is dependent on the actions of others, just as those others are dependent on them. Beloved Community is a world where we see each human as family. Where I’m willing to speak up and tell you when your actions have been too costly for me or those around me and invite you to consider a different action. Where I listen when you call me in, inviting me to notice how my actions impact you and those around you. Where we are willing to engage in the dance of dialogue, moving between empathy and authentic expression, to create a world that works for all.
Excerpted from How to Have Antiracist Conversations: Embracing Our Full Humanity to Challenge White Supremacy, published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Copyright © 2023 by Roxy Manning.