Civility in Our Conversations about Race and Culture

Mary I. Yu, Civility in Our Conversations about Race and Culture, 66 Wash Bar News 5, (May 2011)
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Judge Yu proposes that civility should be used both within and outside the legal profession to start important and necessary conversations about race. “Civility calls us to a state of compassion and empathy. An active and civil engagement about a difficult topic such as race would also permit us to reveal our own biases, share our unfamiliarity of traditions and practices, and expose our ignorance of certain facts without causing personal pain to another. And when we inadvertently cause pain to another, civility requires an apology and a request to rewind and start over. At the same time, the practice of civility also requires vulnerability; it means that some of us must take the risk of sharing the pain of being on the receiving end of bigotry, both real and perceived, with the hope that the listener might better understand its impact.”

Judge Mary Yu writes that members of non-dominant communities need to practice “patience and restraint: patience in having to repeat what has been said by others so many times before and in having to share once again; and restraint from reacting at an emotional level to what we think we heard.” While it might seem like “a lot of work” to have this sort of cross-cultural conversation, she points out, for example, that the different experiences of African Americans and European Americans with the criminal justice system continue to make the conversation necessary. Despite progress over the past decades in achieving equality for all, there still exists “a massive racial chasm” in the perception of whether justice will be delivered fairly. “We must ‘bother’ with listening and learning about the many forms of racial injustice experienced by communities of color and find ways we can move forward together.”