Eden, North Carolina resident David Campt teaches the persuasive power of active listening, empathy, and personal experiences with the aim of finding better ways of communicating about race. And this week, he's getting a national spotlight, when he appears on Comedy's Central's The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
Campt has been doing this work for decades through in-person and online group discussions and workshops, reaching 5,000 participants in 2018 alone. His recently re-published book is titled The White Ally Toolkit, and it provides guidance on how to respond to sensitive topics that surround race.
Campt's method goes by the acronym, R.A.C.E. (Reflect, Ask, Connect, and Expand), with the underlying goal being to shift the discussion from opinion to storytelling. Campt spoke with WFDD's David Ford about how these conversations are fundamental to repairing the fractures that divide our society.
On tough conversations about race during the holidays:
I think the key thing is if everybody has the imperative to ask questions and listen, and ask questions that get at people's experiences, you'll have a whole different conversation just from that. Try to get people to go beneath their opinion and to talk about the experiences that are shaping their opinion. You can ask, "So when did you first start thinking like that?" "Tell me a story about that," or even a more recent time. "Tell me something that really happened to you that makes you think like that."
So, I think that the critical shift is to shift from opinion to story. That is the fundamental shift that people have to make. And it's useful to agree before you disagree. So, before you tell somebody, "No, but you're looking at it wrong," or "That's not right," what you want to try to do is to find something within what they said that you can nod your head to and maybe tell them a story. But if you shift from opinion to story you are already in a different kind of conversation.
On talking about race at the holiday dinner table:
As long as people go to family dinners and they have to leave politics off the table because they don't have the skills of talking about it, then we're going to sit in these separate camps and these separate perceptions will be stoked. So, you're going to get situations where your 80-year-old neighbor has not heard a story about racism because the people who have experienced it are not talking to him. And even his white relatives who know a story like yours are not talking to him because we're not talking across those ideological lines.
So, part of what this project is about is, yes, it's about racial issues, but it's also about re-knitting together American democracy. Because as long as we're so split, the Russians will take advantage of that split. That's what we saw in the last election. If we're that divided and we're not talking to each other, that can be exploited. So, you had people going to rallies that don't exist and you have it possible for foreign entities to further sew these divisions to undermine our society. So, this project is on some level about racial equity, but it's also about can we restructure how we're relating to each other to strengthen democracy.