Monday, January 4, 2016

Cards Against Conversation

There’s a popular party game called Cards Against Humanity, which a friend once described as “Apples to Apples goes to the dark side.” Today I’d like to talk about a game that I call Cards Against Conversation.

It’s well-known on the Internet that the moment someone throws Hitler or Nazis into a discussion that had nothing to do with Hitler or Nazis in the first place, they’ve dealt the Hitler Card. Dealing the Hitler card is generally a sign that that person had nothing else intelligent to add to the conversation, but could only resort to comparing the person they disagreed with to Hitler and Nazis. It’s a pathetic attempt to try to “win” the argument; but everyone knows that according to Godwin’s Law the person who deals the Hitler Card immediately loses all credibility and forfeits the debate.

That’s the first card against conversation, the most well-known, and one that’s almost universally agreed upon. I’d like to introduce you to two other cards which may be a bit more controversial…depending on who you are.

The first is the Male Privilege Card. This is often thrown out during a discussion of gender issues when a guy says or asks something that doesn’t sit well with one of the women involved. The application of the card is usually done in such a way that there’s nothing the guy can say that doesn’t “prove” him to be a male chauvinist pig. Even trying to explain that the way he was understood wasn’t what he meant, is taken by the dealer as a sign that this is just another guy who can’t shut up and let women be right. In other words, this is the “You’re a guy, you have no right to an opinion on this, so shut up” card.

The second is the White Privilege Card. This works in a similar manner to the Male Privilege Card, and is often thrown out during a discussion of racial issues when a white person says or asks something that doesn’t sit well with one of the African-Americans involved. Once again, it implies “You’re white, and have no right to an opinion on this, so just shut up!”

My problem with these cards is that they both shut down meaningful conversation by making it impossible for the “privileged” party to ask questions or clarify what they meant. They don’t take into account that as clumsily as the “privileged” party may have phrased their comment, there is really no ill will, but just confusion that they’re trying to suss out. Throwing out these cards ignores the fact that meaningful conversation on these issues is going to be hard for everyone, and that everyone will say some awkward things as they try to reach understanding.

And too often I’ve seen these cards dealt out to people who are on the “right side” of the cause, only because they phrased something poorly or were still struggling to reach understanding.

I am reminded of the example of the unfortunate substitute teacher who was left to do a lesson plan on racial prejudice with a class of high school students at my old school. Somewhere during the course of the discussion, she mentioned that because of her upbringing, seeing a black guy like “Robbie”, sitting there in the front row, wearing a hoodie, would cause her to cross the street; but she’s working on getting past that, because she knows it’s wrong.

Well, the class went ballistic. Even the white kids went ballistic. How could she make such a racist comment? How could she have been so insensitive? She should never be invited back to sub again!

And yet…if this was to be an honest discussion of racial prejudice, then we have to be willing to hear people’s honest experiences. The honest discussion of racial issues can’t just be me telling white people how it should be and an honest discussion of gender issues can’t just be women telling me how it should be. There should be equal amounts of give and take as those of us who are motivated to join the discussion in the first place try to understand where the other person is coming from.

That can’t happen if we’re too busy playing Cards Against Conversation.

And if you don’t agree with me, that just proves that you’re a Nazi.

No comments:

Post a Comment