1. Characteristics of Community Dialogues on Race

What do we mean by dialogue?

A dialogue is a forum that draws participants from as many parts of the community as possible to exchange information face-to-face, share personal stories and experiences, honestly express perspectives, clarify viewpoints, and develop solutions to community concerns.

Unlike debate, dialogue emphasizes listening to deepen understanding (see Appendix A, "The Difference Between Debate and Dialogue"). Dialogue invites discovery It develops common values and allows participants to express their own interests. It expects that participants will grow in understanding and may decide to act together with common goals. In dialogue, participants can question and reevaluate their assumptions. Through this process, people are learning to work together to improve race relations.

What makes for successful interracial dialogue?

The nature of the dialogue process can motivate people to work towards change (see Appendix A, "Examples of Race Reconciliation from Across the Nation"). Effective dialogues do the following:

  • Move towards solutions rather than continue to express or analyze the problem. An emphasis on personal responsibility moves the discussion away from finger-pointing or naming enemies and towards constructive common action.

  • Reach beyond the usual boundaries. When fully developed, dialogues can involve the entire community, offering opportunities for new, unexpected partnerships. New partnerships can develop when participants listen carefully and respectfully to each other. A search for solutions focuses on the common good as participants are encouraged to broaden their horizons and build relationships outside their comfort zones.

  • Unite divided communities through a respectful, informed sharing of local racial history and its consequences for different people in today's society. The experience of "walking through history" together can lead to healing.

  • Aim for a change of heart, not just a change of mind. Dialogues go beyond sharing and understanding to transforming participants. While the process begins with the individual, it eventually involves groups and institutions. Ultimately, dialogues can affect how policies are made.

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