On How Conversations Work

The given reading material for this week covered the topic of public conversations and how they work. Mark Gaipa’s “Breaking into the Conversation: How Students Can Acquire Authority in Their Writing” recognizes eight ways to write a contribution to a global conversation. Those ways involve several different combinations of agreeing, disagreeing, and challenging already published or recognized ideas and thoughts, and all are common ways one might find themselves as more than a bystander to a conversation. It almost reminds me of having to do Socratic seminars in middle school and the language we were taught to use in them: “I agree, but,” “I agree, and,” “Going off what X said,” “I disagree, because,” “I disagree, but,” “Have we considered,” and so on and so forth. Everything is a connection to something and everything can be elaborated upon almost endlessly if the members of the discussion have the tools (and time) to continue their elaboration.

This, of course, is not the only type of conversation we’re referring to. Jason Carabelli recognizes conversations in a research context, such as those of global warming or gender. These topics don’t necessarily have to be as high profile, though. They can be things like vaccination, workers unions, keeping pandas from going extinct, hair dye, all the way down to what you should have for dinner. Conversation can be between researchers or random people, discreetly, indiscreetly, directly, and indirectly responding to, refuting, supporting, recognizing, and critiquing each other’s findings and statements. A person will propose a theory on a subject. Another person will say they agree, another will disagree, another will not take a side but weigh the different sides for others to make their own decision. Then someone somewhere will propose an entirely new concept that affects the way that theory works and is perceived, which is then debated upon until and after another new concept emerges.

Something I have to add on the topic of conversations is that, sometimes, what you have to say does not matter, or should not take precedence over what someone else has to say. I had a brief conversation with my dad over Winter Break about racial activism and people like Rachel Dolezal (a White woman who claimed to be biracial to gain notoriety in conversations about Black people’s experiences). My dad’s position was that he sees nothing wrong with her lying about being part Black because she simply wanted people to listen to her. What he did not understand was that, as a White woman, Rachel Dolezal will never have the same experiences as a Black person. There are things she cannot understand, and therefore should not be a prominent voice regarding. There is a difference between allyship and talking over someone you claim to uplift.

It’s a similar principle to how a cis man should not center himself in the feminist movement just because “he wants to be heard on this issue”. What a cis man has to say about the gender pay gap holds significantly less weight than that of the women that pay gap affects. Of course the movement will take the support; the problem though is that centering a cisgender man in a feminist movement against the historical and present oppression of the patriarchy is contradictory. When the problem is that there are too many men in the writer’s room, the solution is not to add more men that don’t hate women; the solution is to add more women. In so many social justice conversations, it has been repeated and proven over and over again that sometimes, allyship is backing down and choosing to uplift other voices.

This is not to say that a sexist man is as valuable to that writer’s room as a non-sexist man, or that cis men are not allowed to participate in conversations about gender and feminism or to educate their friends on the topic or contribute to the cause or go to marches. It is to say, however, that a man claiming to be a feminist while actively suppressing women’s voices is similar to a White person claiming to be anti-racist and then actively working to take attention away from people of color. If a cis man that has spent his whole life benefiting from the patriarchy writes an essay on why women deserve rights, sure – that’s good – but what that feels like is being tossed a breadcrumb. Sometimes it is a self-serving move – “See? I’m not sexist,” – meant to uplift an ego, to get attention, or something else. What men who are so inclined to do such things, though, should know, is that you simply saying the words only does so much. Are you willing to, instead of trying to make yourself look good by saying “sexism bad”, tell your friends that they should listen to women because they should, not because you’re telling them to? In the same way that your answer to, “Why do you care about people of color?” should be, “Because they’re humans,” and not, “Because I feel bad for them.” Additionally, are you willing to give up your inclination to say, “debate me,” and challenge everyone to debate you about this issue you personally will never fully understand when the people you are using your defense of to stroke your ego are telling you that it’s better for you to simply amplify what they have to say?

This is an issue “The Case FOR ‘Latinx’: Why Intersectionality Is Not a Choice” addresses with it’s rebuttal of Guerra and Orbea’s argument against the use of “Latinx” to describe people of Latin American descent, though this is an example of discourse within a community.  Scharrón-del Río and Aja in their rebuttal bring up the topic of privilege, and how one cannot simply ignore it and keep sound logic. As Guerra and Orbea are both men, the switch from Latino to Latinx ultimately means nothing to them, and they make this known. They also downsize the importance of the term “Latinx” to the communities that do use it by stating that “Latino” is already a gender neutral term, and say that the change is simply an example of U.S. imperialism.

Something I hate, as a Chinese American, is when Chinese people complain about Chinese American food. It’s always a battle over what’s authentic and what isn’t, if fusion counts as authentic, if it can be authentic if it wasn’t made in China with Chinese ingredients. Chinese American food will be mocked by mainland Chinese people because they recognize it as “other”. It is not “Chinese”, it is a rip-off of “Chinese”. While to some extent, there is a distinction, the refusal to recognize things like Panda Express as Chinese completely misses the “American” part of “Chinese American”. The name recognizes a departure of “Chinese American” from “Chinese”; that does not mean it is not Chinese, though. A Chinese American experience is simply a different kind of Chinese experience and a different kind of American experience, and once this is recognized and factored into one’s opinion, the opinion changes. Because this recognition is that of a truth, I do not believe one can ignore it and have their opinion still be right or recognized as viable. This, my friends, is intersectionality, and this is why intersectionality, as Scharrón-del Río and Aja state, is not optional.

WORKS CITED

Aja, Alan A. and Scharrón-del Río, Maria. “The Case FOR ‘Latinx’: Why Intersectionality Is Not

a Choice.” Latino Rebels, 15 Dec. 2015. https://www.latinorebels.com/2015/12/05/the-

case-for-latinx-why-intersectionality-is-not-a-choice/.

Carabelli, Jason. “Identifying a Conversation.” Writing Commons.

https://writingcommons.org/article/identifying-a-conversation/.

Gaipa, Mark. “Breaking into the Conversation: How Students Can Acquire Authority in Their

Writing.” 2004. http://neurodiversity.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/files/2015/11/Gaipa_Redaction

-2.pdf.

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