We’ve all seen it before. Social media posts discussing taboo subjects such as privilege, oppression, abuse. The colorful post will read “How to have meaningful conversations on racial inequality”, “Talk to your kids about mental health issues”, or “Let’s start the conversation on abuse.” It’s unlikely that you’ll find this as an original post from someone you follow; instead you see this as something your friend or family member shared from some third-party account dedicated to creating these. These accounts keep becoming ever so popular. One of the most popular for social justice is an account titled: “so you want to talk about…” (@soyouwanttotalkabout).
Especially within left-wing circles, we purport to subscribe to the value of conversation, but in reality we don’t.
The idea behind having conversations about touchy subjects is not an incorrect or fallacious one. Although conversation is unlikely to effect change at a legal or systemic level, I’d argue that it can definitely be a starting point to solving many of the issues that we face on a social level, and improvement at the social level inevitably becomes systemic change.When a topic becomes a conversation, knowledge and solutions aren’t kept to those who intentionally seek it out. In other words, by talking about mental health issues with your older parent, you let them know what the latest arguments are surrounding it, educating yourself and them. We involve more people, who, if they have the same conversations with others, further exponential growth. This also demystifies the exaggerated, cartoonish and often biased frame that news outlets and social media offer. While you, or any other person you talk to is also likely partial to some idea, human conversations do not pretend to be informative like the media does.
Then, the issue is not in the concept of talking, but rather in the execution. Most notably because the execution is inconsistent.
I immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic to attend an American college. However, as a member of Generation-Z, I was already well exposed to the culture behind activism, justice and such—but solely through social media. Slowly, as I scrolled, I built up an image of what this would look like not only in America, but in one of the most liberal, activist and ‘social justice-y’ places in the country: a college campus.
As expected, as I followed the people I met, they shared the same kind of posts and called for the same conversations. To many immigrants, the constant call for change and disruption of the status quo would represent culture shock in some way. That, however, was not my case. Culture shock only came for me when I noticed the discrepancy between the social media image and what most Americans (yes, even college students) are actually ready to talk about.
Of course, certain students who went above and beyond in their activism welcomed taboo subjects with open arms. But these students often shared an underprivileged background or personal experience with these subjects. So while nearly all of the campus called for ‘conversations’ and ‘change’ online, only a very small minority did so sincerely. It is not a coincidence that those who embraced tough talks were the same people that needed them the least.
Voicing this concern over social media presents a different kind of meaning. Since we’re on the internet, we are able to freely say, “Let’s talk about it,” without any kind of meaningful reply. Every time we see that and we share, we’re simply replying, “Let’s talk about it,” but we can’t really say that repeating the same sentence over and over to each other is a ‘conversation.’ That is not to say that meaningful conversations can’t happen over the internet, but that they solely happen when we discuss our own thoughts and through our own words, and not sharing the writings of a stranger on the internet.
It’s not that most do not sincerely believe in what they push for. However, it’s palpable that their attitude towards tough talks is unwilling to stand the test of discomfort. In essence, though, that is what talking is supposed to accomplish. A person who has never faced a specific issue will not feel strongly about it unless their comfort is intentionally interrupted by the conversations we love to promote.
If we’re able to engage in what we argue for, the first step towards solving it will finally be undertaken. Otherwise, we are, and will remain, at step zero.