GENDER ROLES AND LABELS

Irshad Manji, author, activist, and founder of “The Moral Courage Project” offers perspective on our divided nation.

Aired on January 14, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> THE GROUND BREAKING BOOK, THE TROUBLE WITH ISLAM, MADE HER ONE OF THE MOST ADMIRED AND MOST REVILED WRITERS THINK ANDERS AROUND THE WORLD.

A VOICE WHO REFUSES TO BE SILENT.

HER SEEMING MASTERY OF MORAL COURAGE.

SHE'S HAD MANY LABELS THROWN AT HER AND SHE REFUSES TO WEAR JUST ONE OF THEM.

HE MUSLIM, REFUGEE, LESBIAN, AND BY SOME, HAIR PARTICULAR.

SHE JOINS US TO TALK ABOUT HER NEW BOOK, DON'T LABEL ME.

AN INCREDIBLE CONVERSATION FOR A DIVIDED TIME.

WONDERFUL TO HAVE YOU HERE.

RIGHT BACK AT YOU.

LET'S START WITH LABELS.

WHY DO YOU THINK, I KNOW YOU TALK ABOUT THIS, WHY DO YOU THINK WE AS A SOCIETY FIND LABELS SO SEDUCTIVE?

IT'S NOT JUST WE AS A SOCIETY.

IT IS HUMIDITY.

WE HUMIDITY -- IT IS HUMANITY.

WE THINK EMOTIONALLY AND BIOLOGICALLY SPEAKING, THE EASIEST EMOTION TO HAVE IS FEAR.

TALK THAT ONE THE FACT THAT WE ARE ALL IMMERSE IN THE DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY THAT'S ARE DESIGNED TO AMP UP OUR EMOTIONS.

AND THEN FINISH IT OFF WITH THE FACT VERY FEW OF US HAVE EVER BEEN TAUGHT TO BE AWARE OF OUR EMOTIONS, LET ALONE EXPRESS THEM CONSTRUCTIVELY.

SO IN THIS TOXIC CAULDRON, LABELS BECOME CONVENIENT TOOLS WITH WHICH TO SORT OF INDULGE OUR EMOTIONS, AND AVOID REFLECTION.

CONVENIENT AND REQUIRE VERY LITTLE WORK.

EXACTLY.

CONVENIENT.

WE ARE ALL BORN WITH BRAINS THAT ARE BOTH PRIMTY AND EVOLVED.

THE FIRST THING THAT ANY STILL EYE GOES THROUGH IN THE BRAIN, THE PRIMITIVE PART DOESN'T WANT TO WORK.

IT ONLY REACTS.

WE HAVE TO FIGURE OUT WAYS TO OUTWIT OUR OWN BRAINS.

AND YOU TALKED ABOUT THIS.

ON I DON'T WANT TO MINIMIZE BY CALLING IT A DEVICE THAT DRIVES THIS CONVERSATION.

IT IS A UNIQUE CONVERSATION THAT YOU'RE HAVING.

SOMETHING THAT WAS VERY SPECIAL TO YOU.

YOUR DOG.

BUT A CONVERSATION WITH THIS.

AND I HEARD YOU TALK ABOUT, IT IS WHAT HELPED TO STIMULATE THE IDEA BEHIND THAT.

ABSOLUTELY.

I JUST MENTIONED THE MOST DANGEROUS FOUR-LETTER F-WORD IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, FEAR.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, I GREW UP WITH A VERY UNHEALTHY FEAR OF DOGS.

ONE YEAR I WAS HAVING PARTICULARLY TOUGH TIME WITH MY HEALTH.

AND MY THEN PARTNER, NOW WIFE LAURA SAID TO ME, YOU KNOW, YOU HAVE TO EVOLVE.

YOU'VE GOT TO GET PAST YOUR FEAR.

LET'S ADOPT A RESCUE DOG AND YOU WILL SEE.

HOW CAN I ADOPT MORAL COURAGE IF I'M NOT WILLING TO GO FIRST.

WE BROUGHT LILY HOME.

FOR THE TWO PRECIOUS YEARS THAT I'VE HAD WITH HER, NOT ONLY WERE MY OWN FEARS OF DOGS BEGGING TO BE OVERCOME.

WHEN DID I OVERCOME THOSE FEARS, I LEARNED SO MUCH FROM LILY.

THE VALUE, FOR EXAMPLE, OF JUST GETTING OUT OF OUR DEVICES.

CLOSING UP THE LAPTOP AND GETTING INTO THE GRASS AND PLAYING.

YES, I KNOW, FOR ANIMAL LOVERS THAT'S A NO BRAINER.

BUT UNDERSTAND THAT TODAY WE ARE ALL DOING THIS.

AND IF WE COULD JUST REALIZE BY SLOWING DOWN, TAKING A DEEP BREATH, ACTUALLY, WHAT WE WIND UP DOING IS TRANSCENDING THE FEAR BASED PART OF THE BRAIN.

EVEN WHEN WE'RE ENGAGING SOMEONE WE DISAGREE WITH, THE FIRST THING TO DO AND THE BEST THING TO DO IS TO JUST BREATHE.

SO SIMPLE.

FOR LILY.

WE TALKED ABOUT THE NOTION OF LABELS.

YOU MENTIONED THE CONCEPT OF TRIBALISM.

WE'RE HARD WIRED FOR THAT.

YOU LOOK AT THE WAYS IT MANIFESTS ITSELF.

PEOPLE DON'T HAVE CONVERSATIONS ANYMORE.

IT IS AS IF FEAR, WE'RE FEARFUL OF SOMEONE REJECTING OUR OPINIONS.

WE DON'T WANT TO ACCEPT THEIR OPINIONS.

HOW MUCH OF THIS DO YOU THINK FLOWS FROM WHAT WE SEE, AND I'M GOING TO TALK ABOUT BOTH PARTIES IN WASHINGTON.

YOU BET.

YOU CANNOT HAVE NOW A DISAGREEMENT POLITICALLY WITHOUT VILIFYING THE PERSON YOU DISAGREE.

WITH IT IS CALLED THE POLITICS OF PERSONAL DESTRUCTION.

HAS THAT ALWAYS BEEN?

OR HAS IT BECOME MORE ENHANCED LATELY?

I'M GOING ON GUESS THAT WOULD YOU AGREE WITH ME THAT IT HAS BECOME MORE ENHANCED LATELY.

WE'VE BEEN LIVING WITH THE POLITICS OF PERSONAL DESTRUCTION.

I THINK THAT WAS BILL CLINTON'S PHRASE FROM WAY BACK WHEN.

WE'VE BEEN LIVING WITH IT FOR A LONG TIME.

IF IT IS EVEN WORSE NOW, I WOULD SAY IT IS THE IMPULSIVE TRIGGERS THAT IT FEEDS TO US HAS MADE THINGS THAT MUCH WORSE.

SO LET'S GET OUR HEADS OUT OF THAT MONITOR OR THAT SCREEN AND SPEAK WITH ONE ANOTHER FACE TO FACE.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT?

I TELL A STORY IN THIS BOOK THAT TWO YOUNG PEOPLE.

ONE, A BIRACIAL HIP HOP ARTIST.

THE OTHER, A WHITE GUY.

BOTH OF THEM COMPLETELY DISAGREE ABOUT WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN WITH THE MISSISSIPPI STATE FLAG.

IT HAS THE CONFEDERATE FLAG.

EXACTLY.

SHE WANTS IT TO CHANGE.

HE DOESN'T.

SOMETHING SHE SAYS AND DOES GOES VIRAL.

HE GETS IN TOUCH WITH HER.

SHE INVITES HIM TO THE BACKYARD TO SIT DOWN AND TALK.

LET'S DISCUSS THIS.

BY THE END OF THAT EXPERIENCE, IT'S NOT THAT HE CHANGES HIS MIND.

THAT WOULD BE TOO EASY A CONCLUSION.

HE REALIZES HE CARES MORE ABOUT HER THAN HE DOES ABOUT THE FLAG.

THAT IS WHAT HUMAN TO HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS, OR HUMAN THE LILY RELATIONSHIPS CAN DO.

HOW DO WE GET OURSELVES AWAY FROM IT?

I THINK THIS IS SOMETHING, SURROUNDED BY LIKE MINDED PEOPLE.

WE LIKE TO BE SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE WHO SOUND LIKE US.

WHO THINK LIKE US, WHO LOOK LIKE US.

AND WE KNOW THAT.

SO HOW DO WE GET OURSELVES TO A DIFFERENT PLACE?

EVEN THOUGH THAT'S ALL REINFORCED IT.

YOU LOOK AT THE NEWS.

THERE'S AN AGENDA AND THEY'RE BEATING THE DRUMS.

OPINION HAS BEEN AN INTEGRAL PART OF JOURNALISM.

WHAT TROUBLES ME IS WE'RE SEEING MORE OPINION AND LESS FACT-BASED DISCUSSION.

HOW DO WE GET FEMALE REMOVE THEMSELVES FROM THE ECHO CHAMBERS.

AT LEAST BE WILLING TO LISTEN.

FIRST IT BEGINS WITH EVERY ONE OF US.

IN OTHER WORDS, INSTEAD OF POINTING FINGERS AT SO AND SO, HE DOESN'T LISTEN TO ME.

ASK YOURSELF.

HOW AM I CONTRIBUTING TO THIS PROBLEM?

MEANING, IF I'M EYE ROLLING, IF I'M BERATING INSTEAD OF RELATING, IF I'M LABELLING THIS PLACE.

FROZEN HIM IN TIME.

WHAT MOTIVATION HAVE I GIVEN?

HERE'S WHAT I SAY.

WHEN YOU ARE ENTERING A CONVERSATION, OR WANTING TO ENTER INTO A CONVERSATION WITH SOMEBODY WHO PROFOUNDLY DISAGREES WITH YOU ON SOMETHING THAT YOU ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT.

ASK THEM.

TELL ME, WHAT AM I MISSING ABOUT YOUR PERSPECTIVE?

DON'T GO IN MAKING STATEMENTS.

ASK SINCERE QUESTIONS.

AND THEN LISTEN.

LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND.

NOT TO WIN.

THIS DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A DEBATE.

IT IS A DISCUSSION.

THAT'S INTERESTING.

I WOULD SUSPECT.

I KNOW THIS.

THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS THAT I DON'T GET INVOLVED IN DISCUSSIONS WITH PEOPLE ANYMORE.

I KNOW IT WON'T CHANGE THEIR MIND.

BUT I PROBABLY SHOULD.

I THINK THE FEAR IS YOU SAY TO YOURSELF, WHY SHOULD I BOTHER ENGAGING IN THIS DISCUSSION?

I WON'T CHANGE MY MIND.

BUT WHY GO IN THERE EVEN WANTING TO CHANGE THE OTHER PERSON'S MIND.

IMAGINE WHAT YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO LEARN FROM THAT OTHER PERSON BY SIMPLY LISTENING.

THIS IS NOT BEING POLYANNISH.

LET ME TELL YOU.

IF YOU CAN FIGURE OUT WHAT VALUES THEY HAVE, WHAT PERSPECTIVE THEY'RE COMING FROM.

THAT IS CRUCIAL INFORMATION WITH WHICH YOU CAN RE-FRAME YOUR ARGUMENTS DOWN THE ROAD.

SO IF YOU ARE REALLY STUCK ON NEEDING TO CHANGE THEIR MIND, YOU'LL HAVE THE INFORMATION NECESSARY TO NOW EXPRESS YOUR POSITION IN A WAY THAT THEY CAN FINALLY HEAR.

LET ME TALK ABOUT THE YOUNGER GENERATION HERE.

I KNOW YOU TALK ABOUT IT IN YOUR BOOK.

I WAS IN COLLEGE AT A TIME WHEN THE NATION WAS ROILED OVER VIETNAM.

ONE OF THE THINGS I REMEMBER IN MY COLLEGE EXPERIENCE, I CAN'T REMEMBER THE COURSE I TOOK.

SOME OF THEM WERE FAVORITES.

BUT DO I REMEMBER THE CONVERSATIONS.

I REMEMBER SITTING IN DINING HALLS AFTER DINNER AND TALKING ABOUT THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND THE VIETNAM WAR.

AND YOU GET THE SENSE THAT THERE'S NOT THE SAME LEVEL OF CONVERSATION ON CAMPUSES.

AND SOME OF IT I THINK COMES FROM THAT FEAR THAT YOU MENTIONED.

YOU NAILED IT.

I WORK WITH COLLEGE STUDENTS AROUND THE COUNTRY.

AND MUCH MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, REGARDLESS OF THEIR LABELS, WHATEVER THEIR COLOR, THEIR GENDER OR RELIGION, THEY SAY TO ME, I'M AFRAID TO BE JUDGED IF I ASK, GET THIS, THE WRONG QUESTION.

THAT'S WHERE WE HAVE ARRIVED AS A SOCIETY.

AND YES, AS HUMANITY.

IF YOU USE A WORD, YOU MAKE A CLUMSY MISTAKE, YOU ARE HONESTLY JUST MISSPOKEN, IT IS JUST VERY EASY TO GET SLAMMED, SHAMED, BLAMED, AND GAMED.

AND NOBODY WANTS THAT.

SO THIS IS WHY I THINK TEACHING THE 60s OF MORAL COURAGE IS SO IMPORTANT.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY MORAL COURAGE?

DOING THE RIGHT THING IN THE FACE OF YOUR FEARS.

AND SO IF, FOR EXAMPLE, YOU KNOW SOMETHING SOMEBODY IS PROMOTING IS SOMEHOW EITHER INACCURATE OR DEROGATORY, THE WAY TO APPROACH IT IS KEY.

I'M BE SAYING DON'T STAND UP TO INTOLERANCE OR HATE.

ABSOLUTELY STAND UP TO IT BUST THAT DOESN'T MEAN YOU HAVE TO GO INTO IT GUNS A-BLAZING.

YOU REALLY WILL BE SHOT DOWN IN THAT CASE.

RATHER, BE INTELLIGENT ABOUT IT.

THAT MEANS LISTENING BUT THEN ASKING.

AGAIN, HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS?

I'M GENUINELY INTERESTED.

IN THE BOOK, ANOTHER STORY I TELL IS ABOUT A NOW FORMER WHITE NATIONALIST WHO REFORMED HIMSELF.

NOTICE, I DIDN'T SAY WAS REFORMED.

HE REFORMED HIMSELF.

HOW?

BECAUSE IT IS AN AMAZING FRIENDSHIP HE HAD WITH A RESILIENT JEW WHO DIDN'T TURN HIS BACK, WHO DIDN'T TRY TO GET IN HIS FACE OR MAKE HIM DISAPPEAR.

BUT RATHER WHO LISTENED AND ENGAGED.

OVER THE COURSE OF THREE YEARS, THIS WHITE NATIONALIST REALIZED THE VIEWS I'VE GOT, THEY'RE NOT FACTUAL.

AND MOREOVER, THEY HURT THE VERY PERSON THAT I CARE ABOUT.

THAT IS A GREAT STORY.

THE BOOK IS FILLED WITH GREAT STORIES.

IT IS CALLED, DON'T LABEL ME.

AN INCREDIBLE CONVERSATION FOR DIVIDED TIMES.

YOU AND I COULD TALK FOR HOURS HERE.

WE'LL CONTINUE THAT BUT FOR NOW, ONCE AGAIN, A VERY PROVOCATIVE, THOUGHTFUL, AND I THINK EXTRAORDINARILY HELPFUL LOOK.

OUR THANKS TO YOU AND TO LILY.

LILY GIVES HER THANKS RIGHT NOW.

THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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