Approaching Difficult Conversations Through The Lens Of Anti-Oppression
In the weeks following the death of George Floyd, whom police killed in Minneapolis at the end of May, protests against police brutality and systemic racism have taken place around the world. With these issues now in the spotlight, many people are discussing difficult topics — like racism, slavery, reparations and police violence.
Regan Byrd is an expert in hard discussions like these. She’s an anti-oppression consultant based here in Colorado, where she founded her own firm, Regan Byrd Consulting. She joined Colorado Edition to talk about how she tackles these difficult conversations.
These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Henry Zimmerman: Could you tell us more about anti-oppression and the work you do on that front?
Regan Byrd: Anti-oppression is a lens through which to look at the world. It’s a way to analyze how certain identities are marginalized, targeted and oppressed. And how resources get denied to those communities based on what is considered a relevant or salient identity.
It studies how oppression happens to those different groups, and the history of why certain groups have been marginalized.
There are many identities that people are marginalized along: it could be race, gender, sexual orientation, class, citizenship status, religion, etc.
Anti-oppression studies how those groups have been targeted, marginalized by formal structural systems, by different stories and ways of thinking about those different groups. How entire communities have been denied resources based on their membership in certain identity groups. And it’s also the study of allyship.
I specialize in anti-racism and anti-sexism, because those are two areas that I am marginalized along. I’ve also studied sociology in college, and done deeper research into the history of these issues.
You’ve got a line on your website that I wanted to ask about: “Regan uses empathy, humor, and surgical precision to discuss typically difficult topics.” What do you mean when you say “typically difficult topics?"
I mean typically difficult in terms of topics that most of us in the United States have been taught are impolite to discuss. People don’t like discussing politics. People don’t like to talk about religion or racism — those are impolite discussions for a workplace or a family gathering.
People call those topics difficult because they invoke strong emotions, strong opinions — and people are invested in the answer. These topics include racism, political inequality and oppression — how oppression is exacerbated by political systems, how the ways we interact with each other are influenced by bias.
Those can be uncomfortable topics for a lot of people to discuss.
My solution is to learn how to have those conversations about the very things we don’t want to discuss — what’s your class? How much money do you make? Is this economy and society taking care of you? Does race impact your lived experiences? Do you feel politically represented?
Those questions are some of the most important questions we can ask about ourselves and the society that we live in. And, they’re conversations we need to learn how to have if we’re going to start solving some of these problems.
In your professional work, how do you work through the tension when it comes to these topics? How do you address something like white fragility?
I like to root people in the value and hope of the work. The goal of anti-oppression work is liberation. It’s for people not to be oppressed based on their identities. It’s for every person to be seen as fully human, as deserving of the same rights that you feel you deserve.
The loss of human life is a deep tragedy. People are losing their lives simply because of their identities. This is untenable. Societies across the globe throughout history have had oppressive systems. So the question is, when are we going to stop doing that?
But you have to agree with me that this loss of human life cannot continue. And that people being oppressed is a moral failing of human society.
How do we keep those conversations going? How do we ensure that the questions being raised will continue to be heard after the protests end?
We have short-term memories. This type of police brutality and violence was happening in the 1960s and was documented — images of police with their knees in people’s necks. It happened during Occupy Wall Street. It happened during the Ferguson protests.
This is not a new conversation. It’s been happening since the inception of police. From their origins of being slave patrols and border patrols. This has been a long-developing conversation.
People need to education themselves on the history and make a sustained commitment to stay in this work.
Yes, we need to mobilize. We need to show our solidarity. We need to use our voices to be heard. But two or three months from now, we can’t just be satisfied that these protests happened. This is going to take years of commitment to restructuring and rethinking the criminal legal system — and policing specifically.
This means six months from now, going to your city council meeting when they’re talking about that. It means continuing your self-education around this. We can’t be satisfied with the current level of energy and mobilization. We need to make a commitment to real sustained changes until there is an improvement in how black and brown communities are being treated by the criminal legal system.
After speaking with Colorado Edition, Ms. Regan shared some recommended resource for those interested in learning more about anti-impression and the history of policing in this country.
“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
“The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein
13th, a documentary available on Netflix and Youtube
This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for June 9. You can find the full episode here.