Scott Woods: No more conversations for Black History Month

Making conversation the end goal wrongly assumes the core problem of white supremacy is ignorance.

Scott Woods
Scott Woods has an action item for everyone’s consideration: Stop having conversations for Black History Month.

As we make our way through another Black History Month, ramping up calls for reconciliation, awareness and all types of mattering, I’d like to submit an action item for everyone’s consideration: Stop having conversations for Black History Month. Frankly, I would like to stop doing it at all times, but I'll settle for 28 days out of the year when we pretend that conversations will save Black people.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t want to simply cut something out of the menu. I’m happy to replace talking about racism and history with something concrete, like combating racism with service and stewardship. Some of us are already moving in this direction on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as more events emphasize service over speech-laden brunches. I’m all for that. Less talky-talky, more almost anything else.

I give conversations about fixing things like racism (and coffee meetups and DEI efforts and anything else that looks like a bad meeting) an especially hard time over other tools in the activism toolbox because they operate under the premise that the core problem of white supremacy is ignorance. It is work that springs from the idea that if horrible people simply spent more time with a certain type of person, they would be less inclined to think negatively of them. Or oppress them. Or kill them.

We need to stop assuming that white supremacists or neo-Nazis or killer cops exist because they're ignorant. I'm not suggesting they’re rocket scientists, but of the ones that you can potentially reach through robust conversation, there are scores of others that have no interest whatsoever in conversations or fixing the problem at all. There are, in fact, more of them by far than the people you might reach through conversations. And so, by the time conversations take root in a person—whatever that magic number of hours, days or weeks is—100 other people (conservatively) that were not, will not and cannot be part of the conversation continue to operate unabated.

Scott Woods

When I tell people that conversations are horrible goals, they think that I don't want to engage in any conversation, and that's not exactly what I mean. It's hard to do the kind of work that will move the needle on something as broad and pervasive as white supremacy without actually talking to other people. Those who wish to challenge the idea that we should have fewer conversations are generally people who only talk. The track record of their gains is minimal, at best. Their presence in the face of rampant evil is negligible. And so conversation seems like a pretty good way to make it appear as if you have skin in the game, because what is more valuable than people’s time? It is precisely why I don't want to engage people for whom conversation is a goal: because they are wasting my time.

Let’s be honest: White people already get it. The average person who doesn't think they're racist understands that there is a problem. They may not understand how to fix the problem or understand the scope of the problem or don't know anybody in their daily lives who suffers from the problem. But they're not ignorant—not in the way that the people who want to have these conversations generally suggest. They're perfectly capable of receiving the instructions for, say, new legislation as they are the nuances of a coffee meetup. And if I have to choose between those two tactics, I'm going to go with the one that actually involves action and, hopefully, change.

Stop acting like the police and politicians and neo-Nazis and corporations don't know what they're doing. Every group I just described is plenty aware of the statistics. They simply derive massive benefits at the expense of your life. And no amount of conversation can compete with an agenda with stakes that high. Black people cannot afford to wait for them to decide when morality will overcome the benefits that come from living blissfully in their skin.