“Dancing Lessons”: Using a Dialogic Text to Promote Racial Awareness and Reconciliation

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“Dancing Lessons”: Using a Dialogic Text to Promote Racial Awareness and Reconciliation

John Hatch, Ph.D.

Eastern University, Chair, and Professor of Communication Studies.

Abstract:  The Christian college classroom provides a pivotal environment for raising awareness of systemic racial injustice and the need for interracial reconciliation. For Euro-American students, however, being confronted with a racialist legacy tends to evoke social pain and arouse defensiveness. Acknowledging this phenomenon, Aaron Gresson argues for a dialogic approach to multicultural pedagogy: the “dance of agency.” I have applied this approach in the intercultural communication class by having students read a published collection of dialogues about race between a black pastor and his white friend. I show how this book models a dance of agency, loosely choreographed along the narrative trajectory of the gospel. Students’ written reflections on the book illustrate how “overhearing” dialogues of this type can disarm resistance and raise consciousness about race.

Keywords: critical pedagogy, whiteness, race, dialogue, reconciliation


In the July/October 2003 special issue of Communication Education entitled “Racial, Cultural, and Gendered Identities in Educational Contexts,” Katherine G. Hendrix, Ronald L. Jackson II, and Jennifer R. Warren called on communication scholar-teachers to be more intentional about advancing culture-sensitive and culture-interrogating critical pedagogies within the discipline.[1] In the same issue, Tina M. Harris noted the emergence of the classroom as “an appropriate and essential context for impacting how citizens critically think about race and race relations,” preparing them “to be responsible citizens with a moral obligation to redress issues of racism, prejudice, and discrimination through interpersonal interaction.”[2] For faculty at Christian colleges and universities that are intentional about integrating faith and learning, this aim is spiritually grounded in the “ministry of reconciliation” entrusted to followers of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18, New International Version), the outworking of divine love that “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” between Jews and Gentiles and other social categories/groups so as “to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Eph. 2:14-16; see also Gal. 3:28; Rev. 7:9). Attention to this dimension of the gospel has grown in the last 25 years, with numerous published works exploring the connection between the gospel of Christ and the task of racial reconciliation.[3]

Divinely grounded or not, the work of racial reconciliation confronts deeply embedded cultural barriers. In contemporary Western society, the call to racial repentance and reformation has been rendered marginal and shrill to ears conditioned by the all-consuming discourse of neoliberalism, the ideology of market capitalism as the final arbiter of social issues.[4] While institutions of higher education may, relatively speaking, provide nurturing spaces and dedicated channels for multicultural discourse and cultural critique, the vast majority of students come to class well-conditioned to avow the identity of the individualistic consumer and disavow historical connections or collective responsibilities. Moreover, while students who attend actively Christian institutions (those that pursue quality with soul, to use Robert Benne’s phrase)[5] are more likely to recognize transcendent moral obligations, they are not necessarily more likely to embrace responsibility for social justice. For instance, sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith have found that most white evangelicals—a predominant demographic at many Christian colleges—bring a well-established set of cultural blinders to the social justice message of Scripture. These include “accountable freewill individualism” (belief in the priority and autonomy of the individual), “relationalism” (belief in the centrality of interpersonal relationships), and “antistructuralism” (unwillingness to believe in social structures’ power to constrain individual choices and relationships).[6] How, then, is the educator at a Christian college or university to convince students (especially white evangelical students) of the persistent structural legacy of racism and the present ethical obligation to redress collective wrongs, without being dismissed as yet another shrill voice of political correctness?

In America’s Atonement, Aaron D. Gresson III suggests that educators propagating critical or anti-oppressive pedagogies sometimes inadvertently strengthen the very rhetorical barriers that block out their message by inadequately considering the psychological impacts of critical multicultural discourse on majority-culture members within their audience.[7] Specifically, because they focus on minority groups’ suffering, they often overlook the psychological discomfort that critical and multicultural discourses tend to produce in whites. According to Gresson, this “white pain” derives from various social losses in the wake of the civil rights movement: loss of face (as the once-accepted sense of white supremacy and moral superiority crumbled into shame at the reprehensible legacy of racism), loss of a stable sense of self vis-à-vis racial others, loss of connection to an accepted collective identity, etc.

In response to this problem, Gresson recommends an approach to critical or anti-oppressive pedagogy: the “dance of agency.” This metaphor highlights the Janus-faced meaning of “agent”: one who has power to act while being subject to another’s power—a situation intrinsic to the human condition. For the pedagogue promoting responsibility for racial disparities, the dance of agency entails give-and-take with those who resist such responsibility; as such, it requires recognizing their individual subjectivities (perhaps best expressed in the form of personal narratives) even as one challenges them at some level. Entering into an intentional dance of agency with students renders the educator more vulnerable to their lived experiences of social pain. It also allows the educative process to address white students’ racial identity crises to potentially reduce the accompanying racial pain while challenging them to recognize and help redress the suffering endured by minorities. In other words, it nurtures empathy and healing action on all sides.

Gresson’s dance of agency overlaps significantly with Martin Buber’s conception of dialogue.[8] As Ronald C. Arnett explains, Buberian dialogue begins with “monologic narrative ground that is meaningfully inhabited long before the communication begins,” recognizing that this ground establishes the identity and standpoint from which the invitation to dialogue is offered and heard.[9] As such, the process of dialogue must begin by acknowledging the differing monologic content of each interlocutor’s narrative ground. That is, in effect, what Gresson has faulted multicultural pedagogy for failing to do: “[W]hite males feel threatened. When we refuse to hear and respond to this in a conscious, forthright manner, we invite disaster. . . . What is of immediate importance is that we recognize the psychic assault that multiculturalism—as fact and fantasy—has ‘inflicted’ on whites.”[10] While sociologists or critical theorists may regard white males’ perception of racial vulnerability as ludicrous in view of abundant statistics on racialized socioeconomic disparities, Gresson recognizes that the perceived threat to whites is rooted in the way that multiculturalism challenges monologic narratives in which white Americans have found identity and meaning across many generations—including rugged individualism, manifest destiny, and various forms of white supremacy.[11]

Given that interlocutors come to dialogue not as free-floating agents but as subjects grounded in monologic cultural narratives, dialogue must attend to those narratives as well as individuals’ own stories (which are at least partly rooted in those cultural narratives). Gresson’s dance-of-agency approach to multicultural pedagogy entails just that: inviting white students to tell their own personal stories of racial experience, while also confronting them with the historical sufferings of black people and other minorities. Doing so is no warrant for facile optimism about achieving agreement or harmony. Instead, Arnett contends, the process of dialogue must be approached with “tenacious hope,” recognizing that dialogue demands a “labor of care” and “requires participation without guarantee of outcome.”[12] Grounded in recognition of narrative ground and armed with an orientation of tenacious hope, interlocutors are prepared to engage in dialogue—“a process and quality of communication in which the participants ‘meet,’ which allows for changing and being changed.”[13]

While the content of dialogue incorporates monologic narratives, the process of dialogue involves sharing those narratives in a particular manner. Richard L. Johannesen identifies four key qualities of speaking and listening in dialogue: authenticity (honestly and prudently communicating all the information relevant to the topic of conversation), inclusion (attempting to see and experience the other’s viewpoint, imagining its reality for the other without giving up one’s own viewpoint), confirmation (affirming the other as a person with the right to express his or her views), and presentness (bringing one’s genuine being and full attention to the encounter).[14] These are evident in Gresson’s dance of agency. In effect, Gresson proposes that those who advocate multicultural reform should confirm as unique persons those who disagree, with the right (and responsibility) to authentically express their perceptions, and should practice inclusion toward them, attempting to imagine how they see and experience the world.

This essay explains and illustrates one such “dance of agency,” developed to help students in the intercultural (or interracial) communication course at Christian universities engage in critical, productive self-reflection regarding race and reconciliation. The choreography for this particular dance winds its way through a book entitled Letters Across the Divide: Two Friends Explore Racism, Friendship, and Faith.[15] Below, I explain how this book exemplifies the dance of agency at both interpersonal and rhetorical levels, with a trajectory and moves prefigured by the gospel metanarrative. As such, it provides a promising resource for engaging Christian students in dialogue and self-reflection about racial responsibility and reconciliation. After briefly discussing the book’s potential at the level of theory and rhetorical analysis, I relate how I have used it in the intercultural communication course, letting students enter into its dialogue progressively through reflection papers responding to its letter exchanges over a period of several weeks. To illustrate the kind of impact that engagement with this book can have, I report categories of responses that emerged from qualitative content analysis of papers sampled from one iteration of the course, which show how some students’ thoughts about race and their own role in race relations were brought to critical awareness and changed by reading Letters Across the Divide. I conclude by discussing the value and limitations of using this type of text to promote a sense of responsibility for redressing the racialized legacy of slavery and racism.

From Monologic Minority Narratives to Dialogic Inter-Racial Letters

Intercultural and interracial communication classes frequently require students to read autobiographical narratives of ethnic, racial, gender, and other minority group members in hopes of raising their consciousness of these groups’ unique cultural meanings, practices, and experiences, including the oppressions they have suffered at the hands of the majority culture. Given that beliefs about society are grounded in monologic cultural and individual narratives, it is essential that students hear these voices speaking about their own experiences from their own cultural standpoints. The popularity of the groundbreaking intercultural reader Our Voices and others modeled after it attests to the value of this approach.[16]

At the same time, for many white students, a semester-long diet of minority members’ tales of difference and discrimination (compounded by the critical stance and vocabulary adopted by many of these authors) may engender psychological discomfort (white pain) and build up defensiveness. In response, they can readily take refuge in the widespread rhetoric of racial recovery or self-atonement found in post-civil rights US America: a rhetoric of righteous indignation associated with images and narratives of the besieged white male hero.[17] Such racial self-healing, while psychologically understandable, is ethically untenable, since it produces white self-redemption at the expense of people of color. What is needed, and what multicultural pedagogy presumably seeks to promote, is inter-racial empathy, justice, and reconciliation. This would require a process of dialogue in which white people’s voices are included and their monologic narrative ground is recognized as well as challenged (in light of the history of racism and its aftereffects). Further complicating matters, the act of challenging must be done in a way that does not make students feel personally disregarded or disrespected.

To fill this need, I have used a religious popular press book entitled Letters Across the Divide: Two Friends Explore Racism, Friendship, and Faith to supplement the traditional intercultural communication textbook. Letters Across the Divide is an after-the-fact collection of personal interactions between two Christian men—one black, the other white—regarding the problem of race and the possibility of reconciliation in the United States. Written in accessible, everyday language, Letters Across the Divide is distinguished by several strengths. These include (1) dialogic authenticity, as each author speaks from his own narrative ground; (2) multiple points of identification with white (as well as black) Christian readers; (3) a dance of agency, both in the letters themselves and in their framing by the authors for the reader; and (4) the gospel-shaped transformation that occurs over the course of letters in and between both men, but especially in the white coauthor. John B. Hatch has examined Letters Across the Divide rhetorically;[18] here, I simply highlight these four characteristics relative to the pedagogical challenge of white students’ racial pain and defensiveness.

First, the dialogic authenticity conveyed in Letters Across the Divide is striking. As David Anderson (the black coauthor) explains in the prologue, he and Brent Zuercher (the white coauthor) had become good friends at Willow Creek Community Church, where David was a pastoral intern, but they confronted the racial divide when David moved across the United States too found an intentionally multicultural church and asked Brent, an accountant, to come join him to help with its financial affairs.[19] Brent agreed to serve as treasurer from a distance but not to relocate and join the church, partly because of “unresolved issues and unanswered questions about race.”[20]  He and David decided to address these questions in depth, using letters rather than the phone so as to allow for more reflection and rewriting.

Over the course of the letters, with unusual frankness, David and Brent discuss how race impacts individuals and society, who (or what) is to blame for present racial division, and what it would take to achieve racial reconciliation. In the opening exchange of letters, Brent warns David, “some of the questions I’m anticipating asking and some of the statements I will make during this discussion will probably offend or even anger you.”[21] He asks David to give him some grace when this happens, “for my purpose is not to offend but to honestly and vulnerably seek the truth and reconciliation.” David assures him that he will do so, and Brent announces his intention to reciprocate. The friends commit to “stay in this dialogue . . . until we can both affirm that we are indeed well on the road to a lifetime of racial reconciliation with each other.”[22] This commitment is tested through the course of letter exchanges, as David and Brent challenge each other’s (and their respective racial groups’) attitudes and actions regarding race. Their honest exchanges demonstrate that dialogue “does not preclude heated or even agonistic exchange.”[23] Certainly, Letters Across the Divide cannot be faulted for “political correctness.” Rather, it gives voice to common white perceptions and attitudes regarding black people and race relations—to which its black coauthor respectfully responds.

Since David and Brent are close friends who met at a predominantly white, evangelical mega-church, it is not surprising that their letters foreground one of the cultural assumptions prevalent among white evangelicals: the belief that Christ-centered interpersonal relationships are key to addressing social divisions.[24] In this respect, Letters identifies with white evangelical readers. That identification deepens as Brent’s letters voice virtually all the commonsense arguments that white people make against any need for further race-based reform and redress. Identification is crucial here, for the challenge of racial division is as much a problem of persuasion as it is a lack of shared understanding.[25] Given the psychological complications of whiteness, establishing points of identification with majority students is at least as important to this work of persuasion as making sure that minority voices inform course content.

I have already noted Brent and David’s commitment, expressed in their opening letter exchange, to stay in dialogue toward reconciliation. They follow through on this commitment through the give-and-take of expressing themselves openly and listening with openness as they work their way from questioning what racism is (and whether it is still a significant force) to exchanging words of reconciliation. The letters engage three sets of topics: (1) problems with race relations (racism, black anger, blacks’ apparent fixation on race, the possibility of widespread racial violence, and disagreements about what constitutes racial equality/justice); (2) controversies about black identity and culture (race labels, the nature of black culture, Black English, etc.); and (3) racial reconciliation (personal self-assessment regarding racism and reconciliation, questions about apology and forgiveness, and the practice of reconciliation).

It is important to note that Brent is an equal agent in this discussion on race, not merely an exhibit of whiteness under critical scrutiny. Freedom to express one’s own perspective—to bring what one believes and feels into the light—is an essential ingredient of genuine conscientization, learning, and transformation. While such monologic honesty is necessary to promote racial sensitivity and responsibility, it is not sufficient in itself. What enables transformation in racial attitudes and race relations is the dialogic dance of agency between majority and minority voices. In Letters, white evangelical assumptions about race clash with but ultimately incorporate black Christian understandings of race. Brent’s evident assumptions of accountable freewill individualism and antistructuralism encounter (and are countered by) David’s painful awareness of black people’s past and present structural disadvantages in American society. What makes transformation possible is the fact that this encounter, fierce at times, is not a verbal fight (as seen so often in political commentary shows and online exchanges) but a dance of agency seeking the mind of Christ regarding race relations—each interlocutor in turn yielding to the other in a posture of respectful listening and acknowledgement, and each of them citing Scriptural and theological warrants for their ideas on race and reconciliation.

Beyond the modeling of dialogic agency in David and Brent’s conversation, Letters rhetorically re-presents their dialogue in a way that hails the reader as an agent and potential co-participant in the larger conversation toward racial reconciliation. In the prologue, David writes, “The dialogue you are about to read was our personal and real conversation about race. It reflects our personalities and experiences and is not necessarily the conversation you would have.”[26] He also affirms the diversity of interest levels in the topic: “You may have little commitment to racial reconciliation but perhaps just a seed of interest. My hope is that by allowing you to essentially eavesdrop on a written conversation between a close personal friend of mine and me, the seed within you will be watered.”[27] David also emphasizes the reader’s responsibility to “find a safe cross-cultural relationship where you can explore these matters in greater and more personal depth.”[28] David and Brent maintain this dance of agency with the reader by introducing each topical chapter with brief remarks that contextualize their exchange and call forth the reader’s own perspective on that topic.

The final factor setting Letters apart as a piece of discourse promoting racial reconciliation is the gospel-shaped transformation that occurs between Brent and David, and especially in Brent, over the course of the book. For example, having challenged David on black people’s culture and their claims about present-day racism through two-thirds of the book, Brent comes to a moment of self-examination: “I am struggling with the acknowledgement that it is people like me who keep the coals of racism burning. The implications of this knock the wind out of me because they mean that I may be guilty and part of the problem, and that my friends and family may be guilty and part of the problem.”[29] Four chapters later, in the final exchange of Letters, Brent laments:

How blind I have been to think I have played no part in the deterioration of race relations in America. How wrong I have been to sit   back on my couch in white suburban Chicago and point my finger at blacks universally, confident that I universally am innocent . . . .

 . . . Although I have not been overtly racist, I have been passively racist—I see this now; please forgive me. But most of all please         forgive me for the many times I have remained silent when I should have spoken out and for the many times I joined in the     disparaging comments of my friends and peers.[30]

In response, David writes, “Your apology letter demonstrated self-examination at a level I have never seen before. . . . I commend you. I unconditionally accept and appreciate your apology. In fact, I get choked up every time I read it. Thank you.”[31]

In his in-depth rhetorical analysis of Letters Across the Divide, Hatch notes that it took more than just honest, open dialogue to bring Brent to the point of self-examination and confession; it was the power of the gospel (as the shared ground and metanarrative map for Brent and David’s conversation) that played the lead role in his transformation:

[T]hose who imbibe and accept the classical Christian teaching that unrepentant humans are “blind” are conditioned to yield themselves to a revolutionary change of mind. . . . For Brent, the movement from ignorance and resistance to enlightenment, surrender, and receiving forgiveness has already been plotted by the gospel mythos. Apart from this prefigured plot, one may find relatively little ground for his radical confession of racial guilt.[32]

Because of Letters’ grounding in the gospel, combined with the book’s dialogic authenticity and multiple points of identification and agency for white evangelical readers, there is greater likelihood that these readers would move (with Brent) toward racial conscience and responsibility. In overhearing the dialogue between Brent and David, they have the opportunity to hear a white man’s narrative ground being respectfully challenged from a black man’s standpoint. There are two additional advantages to this arrangement. The first is distance: readers themselves are not being called out and put on the defense (as when a student is called on by an instructor during a class discussion). The second is modeling: Brent exemplifies both the courage of his convictions (speaking honestly from his narrative ground) and openness to new information and transformation through dialogue with the Other. For these reasons, this book merits consideration for use in courses that include a focus on interracial communication, especially at Christian colleges. Below, I describe my own use of Letters Across the Divide in such a course and discuss students’ responses to their readings from it.

Using Letters as a Pedagogical Resource: Identification and Transformation

The Intercultural Communication course is required for all communication majors and minors at both of the Christian universities where I have taught. Because this course is the most appropriate venue for an in-depth examination of issues of race within the required communication core, I decided to add Letters Across the Divide to the standard intercultural textbook and essay readings I had required in the past. Just as David and Brent had conducted their dialogue via letters across an extended period of time, I decided to spread out assigned readings from Letters across a month. Doing so had two advantages. First, it gave students more time to process the progression of dialogue and understanding in Letters—to see the deep differences between the black and white authors’ narrative grounds, feel the unresolved tensions between their perspectives, and witness the authors’ willingness to engage in the time-consuming “labor of care” around these differences,[33] without rushing to resolve or minimize them. Second, it allowed me to place David and Brent’s topical exchanges in tandem (and conversation) with other readings and lectures about such topics as intercultural dialogue, cultural histories, cultural identity, individual prejudice, systemic racism, conflict transformation, social justice, and reconciliation. Given limited time and the fact that the authors of Letters so frequently and explicitly connect racial reconciliation to the gospel, I did not deem it essential to require additional readings on the theology of reconciliation. I did, however, note that Letters illustrates how Christian faith has been a major impetus to work on racial reconciliation in recent decades.

From time to time, I created space for small-group or whole-class discussions of assigned reading from Letters; however, space for these discussions was relatively limited, for two reasons. First, while Letters is conceptually easy to follow, other readings and concepts required more in-class attention to make sure that students understood and could apply what they were learning (in some cases, applying it to what they had just read in Letters). Second, my primary aim in assigning Letters was for students to engage its conversation about race at a level of self-reflection that they might not feel comfortable fully exposing in class. For this reason, I emphasized individual written engagement with Letters more than oral discussion about it. For credit, I required students to write four reflection-response papers on chapters within the book, spaced a week apart. A slightly abridged version of the directions for the assignment follows:

For each reaction paper, you will type a 1.5 to 2 page double-spaced short-essay response to selected ideas and points of view that you encountered in that reading. I expect you to consider the authors’ perspectives and respond to them thoughtfully, not just state your own view. Evaluation will be based on the depth and care with which you have thought through the issues as you express your opinions. An “A” paper will embody the qualities of empathy (truly listening to, and trying to understand and feel, the point of view of the person you are reading) and honesty (being real about your own feelings/views on the matter) as well as careful critical thinking and supporting your claims or opinions with solid evidence and reasoning.

In effect, by holding students to the standards of empathy and honesty, I was requiring them to engage in a dialogic dance of agency with the authors’ voices and perspectives. Just prior to starting the book, the class had been primed for such an orientation through a one-week lesson involving an intercultural ethics case study and a lecture introducing various approaches to ethics, culminating in the dialogic meta-ethic. Then, when the prologue and first chapter of Letters were assigned, I used homework questions, followed by in-class discussion, to help students recognize the dialogic qualities in the authors’ initial letters to one another. For most of the subsequent readings, I did not provide formal prompts or comprehension questions.

In the first three papers, I gave students latitude to respond to any passage(s) in any chapter(s) they had read over that week. The fourth assignment, however, required everyone to write a response to the final chapter (“Reconciliation Begins”), which features extended statements of confession, apology, and forgiveness between Brent and David. For that paper, I prompted them with possible topics to consider: “What do you think of the statements by Brent and David? Is there value in racial apologies/forgiveness? Could this type of exchange, on a wider scale, help race relations in the United States move in a more positive direction?”

The first year in which I required these response papers, I noticed that some of the students were surprised, stirred, and even changed by “listening in” on this published conversation. Of the 16 students in the class that term, 15 were white. Some of their papers exhibited a striking degree of honesty about racial attitudes, while others conveyed new perceptions and intentions regarding the students’ own behavior toward others who were racially different. Realizing the value of these results, I asked my students for written permission to select passages from their papers (without personal identifiers) to share with other educators via presentation or publication. Twelve of them gave their informed consent. Only one member of the class was black, and he did not give permission for his papers to be used in the study. Even if he had given consent, including his perspective could have compromised his confidentiality. Thus, in keeping with the impetus for this study, the sampled papers shed light on how white resistance to multiculturalism and racial atonement may be engaged, disarmed, and possibly transformed.

The 12 participating students had submitted a total of 37 reaction papers during the term. I content-analyzed those papers for specific responses to the readings (i.e., expressions of agreement/disagreement with certain ideas, feelings about particular issues, self-examination, intentions to act in certain ways, changes in thinking, etc.). Because I wanted to explore and unpack what I saw to be Letters’ unusual capacity to engender authentic racial self-expression, open/empathic listening, and transformation in readers, my approach to content analysis was qualitative (focusing on noteworthy statements and patterns rather than counts of items) and inductive (allowing themes to emerge from the texts rather than applying prior theoretical categories).[34] Having identified specific themes within the papers, I sorted them into larger categories. I present these below with supporting quotations, intending that they be taken only as illustrative of the additional possibilities for racial engagement opened up by a text like Letters Across the Divide. Because I understand effective teaching to be a form of praxis rather than an exact science, I offer these outcomes from my own practice so that other instructors at Christian colleges may consider using Letters Across the Divide (or a comparable published dialogue) for courses that confront issues of race in depth. In some of the quotations below, spelling or grammar errors have been corrected to facilitate readers’ focus on their content.

In the student response papers, I identified the following categories of response:

  • Expressing surprise at the honesty in the letters
  • Identifying/agreeing with Brent’s objections to black anger and the “race card”
  • Accepting David’s explanations of black anger and fixation on race
  • Appreciating David’s acknowledgment that blacks bear some responsibility for the present racial divide
  • Acknowledging whites’ continuing contribution to the racial divide
  • Finding fault with Brent’s racial perceptions and attitudes
  • Agreement with Brent’s arguments against affirmative action
  • Self-reflection or self-examination regarding racial attitudes and practices
  • Amazement at the expressions of reconciliation toward the end of Letters
  • Changing awareness and attitudes about race

I discuss each of these in the rest of this section.

Expressing Surprise at the Honesty in Letters

In several of the response papers, students remarked about the unusual honesty between David and Brent. One student expressed admiration: “I think it takes a lot of honesty to be that open, and I also think that how Brent feels is pretty similar to the way the rest of America feels. It is hard to reach reconciliation when two groups of people are afraid to speak openly and honestly with each other, and I really admire the way that Brent and David are able to do this and still maintain a healthy relationship.” Another comment highlights the link between “listening in” on such authentic dialogue and the opportunity for self-examination:

I think anyone who actually reads what they have to say will do some self-examination on their own. It could be as simple as thinking “I’ve had that stereotype!” or “I’ve asked that question, but never aloud,” while reading the text. I know that I had those kinds of reactions several times, and seeing how these two handled that conversation was a nice change from never hearing such things voiced aloud.

Identifying/Agreeing with Brent’s Objections to Black Anger and the “Race Card”

Clearly, these white students identified with many of Brent’s concerns about how blacks approach the topic of race, especially black rage and what he sees as a proclivity to “play the race card.” One student wrote, “This was a particularly interesting section to read because Brent asked questions that I have wondered myself, like why are blacks so angry and why do they always play the race card.” Another elaborated:

I have often shared the frustration Brent has felt over the race card. I have wondered why everything that does not affect blacks positively gets labeled racist. . . . If blacks use the race card too often it will only serve to alienate whites and will lessen the impact of a truly racist act in the future.

Other students related with Brent’s statement, “Slavery was a long time ago and as best as I can tell, life for blacks as a whole today is better in America than in any of the African countries their ancestors were kidnapped and enslaved from.”[35] Some students identified particularly with Brent’s words, “Every time I am accused of being racist simply because I am white, the walls go up, and my accuser’s words fall on deaf ears” and related how they had experienced that reaction themselves when confronted by direct or indirect accusations of racism.[36]

Accepting David’s Explanation of Black Anger and Fixation on Race

At the same time, some students expressed respect for or acceptance of David’s answers to the objections against black anger. Perhaps because their own objections were fully “heard” through the voice of Brent, they were better able to hear what David had to say. For example:

In our latest reading . . . I read and identified many valid points from both Brent and David. The first valid point brought up comes from Brent when he sent a letter to David regarding why black people are so angry all the time. . . . Brent goes on to say that we as Americans have this [erroneous] idea in our heads that says that black rage is an appropriate response to the racism that has victimized them for years. In response to this, David says that, “Blacks have had to fight for every inch of freedom, respect, and privilege that has been gained. The feeling and mentality are that no one has given us anything. So when you say we’re moving forward and advancing, it’s not as if blacks are somehow feeling thankful to whites for it.”[37]

Another student remarked, “This chapter answered some questions of why they still hang on and cling to these feelings. If someone does you wrong you are not going to get over it instantly but it takes time and this was such a large injustice that it will take a lot more time.”

Others found themselves resonating with David’s comments about blacks’ unavoidable racial identity:

I also liked David’s response in letting Brent know the extent to which race is an issue for blacks. I think for many white people they don’t necessarily see themselves as white, that is, their identity as white is not so evident or even conscious; this is just not possible for blacks. . . . There is a history that blacks share that is not easily forgotten. This history has a tremendous effect on the way their identities are formed. For whites to say things like “get over it” shows the ignorance we have of the impact of history on the present.

Appreciating David’s Acknowledgement That Blacks Bear Some Responsibility for the Present Racial Divide

While David argues that black anger is understandable and somewhat justified, he also affirms Brent’s assertion that nursing anger and bitterness toward whites is problematic, especially when encouraged by pastors. Numerous students expressed appreciation for his willingness to engage in racial self-examination and admit fault where appropriate. The most frequent theme mentioned in this regard was overplaying the race card or “crying wolf,” as Brent put it. One student wrote, “I liked that David admitted that there is too much ‘wolf calling’ in society. I liked that he was able to look past his anger with the ‘whites’ and admit to what was wrong with his own culture. That took a lot of courage and I respect that a lot.”

Acknowledging Whites’ Continuing Contribution to the Racial Divide

Several of the responses affirm David’s claim that race still makes a difference and whites generally have the advantage in U.S. society. Significantly, it was the female students who most commonly expressed agreement on this point and consistently related black disadvantage with their own disadvantages as women. For example,

David makes a valid point when he says blacks have had to fight for every freedom, respect and privilege that has been gained. I understand this. I also agree, to a certain extent, when he says blacks have to be twice as smart, twice as qualified and twice as lucky to be successful in corporate America. I think women could argue the same thing for both of his points.

Another female student wrote,

Is there inequality for people because of their race? Yes, certainly. And while Brent is correct in saying that people everywhere are discriminated against, for being a woman, or a religion, etc., I really believe he is wrong in his belief that people just need to work harder and better in order to accomplish the same things the hegemonic white male is able to. I think this is just a case where Brent cannot understand, even a little, what it is like to be discriminated against since he is a white man. As a woman, I have already experienced discrimination, either consciously or subconsciously, and it helps me better understand what David is trying to explain.

Finding Fault with Brent’s Racial Perceptions and Attitudes

As in the excerpt just quoted, some responses expressed dissatisfaction with Brent’s perceptions or attitudes toward race. The presence of a white interlocutor (one who disagrees with standard black views) in a text about the problem of race provides the opportunity for the reader to notice problematic white perspectives. One student recognized Brent’s inconsistency regarding “color-blindness”:

In the second set of readings I noticed how Brent is admitting how the color of someone else’s skin does matter to him. Before, he said that he does not judge a person on the color of their skin and that it does not matter to him. . . . He is now pinpointing some cultural differences that he “disdains” in certain segments of the black community. He is saying that he has a problem with blacks from “the hood” because there are lifestyle choices they have made that he disagrees with.

Another response finds fault with Brent’s reasoning:

Brent’s argument that there is inequality but it is not racially motivated was a rather weak one, although I do agree with him on some points. There are several groups of people out there who are discriminated against, and perhaps a white male can’t understand the ways in which it happens. Have things changed a lot throughout the years? Yes. Have things changed enough? No.

Yet another takes Brent to task for lacking empathy:

I was surprised by the lack of compassion in Brent’s assertion that inequality is everywhere so we have to do the best we can with what we have. I certainly would agree with the claim that some people work harder than others and so deserve the life they have, or the jobs they have been able to earn. I would be one of the first to argue cases against people who are living off of welfare without attempting to better their lives. But I have also seen families and friends whose families have had a bad hand “dealt to them” and are trying to do the best they can with what they have.

Agreement with Brent’s Arguments against Affirmative Action

On balance, however, the students generally agreed with Brent’s objections to affirmative action. Such arguments are frequently heard, and I do not belabor them here. The following response captures the debate between David and Brent and the typical student judgment in favor of Brent while conceding some of David’s points:

It seems on the issue of equality between black and white people that Brent and David come to their biggest argument about race. Basically, Brent was saying that the world isn’t fair and that you just have to fend for yourself as best you can and not blame it on someone else. David’s point of view is that there is a lack of compassion in the world and that black people are often disadvantaged in life compared to white people. I think that I agree with what they both said, but I might adhere to Brent’s philosophy a bit more than David’s. Brent was trying to explain that he had to work very hard to get himself to where he is and that he didn’t receive any freebees. This is similar to how I feel because I have always felt that working hard is one of my best traits and hope that when I get a job  it will be because of my hard work. . . . Of course, I cannot ignore how the world is racist sometimes and that can make life more difficult for a black person than for me. It was good that David was preaching compassion as there is too little kindness in the world and [I] do try to help out people when I can. But there is only so much you can do for someone else and once again it boils down to personal responsibility. . . . I think it is impossible to achieve equality, as everyone is not equal. People should instead focus on showing people respect.

The notion that inequality is endemic to the human condition and complete equality is unattainable was a consistent theme in student responses to this discussion.

Self-Reflection or Examination Regarding Racial Attitudes and Practices

The task of reading David and Brent’s letters evidently generated considerable self-reflection and self-examination, particularly in response to Brent’s confession and apology toward the end of Letters. In some cases (in response to the earlier readings), students unapologetically expressed their negative perceptions and emotions on a particular racial issue; in others, they looked at themselves in the mirror and found themselves wanting or “guilty.” Significantly, several responses conveyed a process of self-examination that remains open to the possibility that new experiences will expose hidden prejudices; others confessed to potential ignorance. One student wrote, “Having an open mind, admitting one’s faults, and striving to become more seems to be a foundation of the relationship these two men have, and I cannot help but wonder how much I don’t understand about the black culture that is here on our own campus and a part of several of my friends’ lives.” Another reflected,

I wondered how I compare with what Brent was saying in his apology. . . . I would like to think that I am not even a passive racist but I am not sure if I can say that with 100% conviction. . . . Perhaps the best strategy for me is to live as best I can, and if there is a racist belief that I encounter about myself, then I must do my best to change that belief.

The following response conveys an unequivocal sense of guilt:

This set of letters has made me think of all the people I have stereotyped and how by doing that, I have been unintentionally been racist, or passively racist. When someone makes racist comments and I know it is wrong but still do nothing to stop them from making these comments, I am once again being passively racist. I never realized how racist we can be without thinking about it.

Another response is even more pointed:

I would have to say that racism is (sadly) an issue that I am not confronted with every day, and in that respect I fall into the trap that Brent fell into: not being horribly shocked by racist incidents when they occur. I too have been guilty of wanting to believe that racism is a thing of the past that occurs only in the south with people who do not realize the Civil War is over. I have also been guilty of thinking that Blacks are being oversensitive when it comes to “playing the race card” on issues like the government, police, jobs, etc. It is far easier to believe that a problem doesn’t exist than acknowledging one and trying to find a way to fix the problem.

Reflecting on Brent’s apology, one student emphasized the importance of collective self-examination and transformation: “Just because we apologize does not mean that is the end; in fact, it is just the beginning of the next step, and we need to be at the next step to be one step closer to reconciling the past. In order to get to the next step, we need to have a clearer understanding of why we cannot get past the step we are on. I think this is because we are being passively racist.”

Amazement at the Expressions of Reconciliation toward the End of Letters

Some of the students’ strongest sentiments are expressed in reaction to the final chapter, “Reconciliation Begins.” One response recounts,

I was shocked at how, in the first letter, Brent really let loose and vocalized all of the things that made him unaccepting of black people. It made me kind of uncomfortable to read his list of things that formed his racist attitude. He really hit upon many, if not all, of the stereotypes white people have. I must confess that I share/shared some of those close-minded, ignorant notions about blacks. . . .

At the end of his letter it did seem that he genuinely regretted those negative attitudes and that he sincerely wanted to atone for them. . . . He demonstrated that he really has tried to see the world through the eyes of an African American. . . .

David’s response was moving. You could almost feel the tears in his eyes while reading his words. He seemed greatly touched by Brent’s efforts to understand the black man’s plight, and to truly apologize for his complicity in the schism between the two races. I also liked his reservations about apologies. He said that he felt white people saw the apology as the end and not the beginning of racial reconciliation. I can see how this would be true. . . . The apology is only the first step in true reconciliation. After that, more steps need to be taken to then build actual relationships and trust between the two races.

Another response reflects on the way that Brent’s shockingly honest confession contributes to the power of his apology: “If Brent would not have made such alarming and harsh comments, his apology would not have much depth. It would seem like a surface apology that basically said sorry for some the thoughts or actions I have had against blacks.”

One student is frank about her own struggle with the pathos of Brent and David’s reconciliation:

My initial reaction after reading the final chapters in Letters Across the Divide was to ignore it. Such “goody-goody” feelings are usually seen only in extremely sappy movies or books and seem extreme when taken seriously. This was my first gut reaction. My second was to look on it in respect, and I don’t think anyone would be able to reflect back on what David and Brent said without accepting and respecting it in the end. . . .

I think it’s a testament to the respect a person builds for Brent and David by the end of the book that the reconciliation they reach seems genuine. While I respect the reconciliation they managed to reach, I think it was rare, but I also think that should I be in a position to have such a relationship with another person. I would be more likely to recognize the chance and take it.

Changing Awareness and Attitudes about Race

The statement above and others before it indicate growth in consciousness of how race continues to matter for blacks, whites, U.S. society as a whole, and oneself. Some responses also signal students’ changing attitudes or dispositions toward black people. In this section, I highlight one individual’s commendable growth over the course of reading Letters. In an early response, this female student strongly identifies with Brent’s statement that he has a problem reconciling with blacks from the “hood” (because of their way of life, which Brent sees as degenerate), and she takes exception to David’s stated empathy for his black brothers in the ghetto. She also affirms Brent’s claim that whites’ anger toward blacks is really just symptomatic of blacks’ unreasonable anger toward whites, and then asserts, “He is totally right when he talks about whites and blacks not living in the same neighborhoods and interacting. . . . It is hard to really understand a culture if you are never exposed to [it]. It is not my fault if I don’t live around blacks or go to school with them.” Elsewhere, referring to a prominent local murder case, she claims that the nearly all-white populace is color-blind in their outrage: “Recently in Dubuque we had a stabbing, all the girls were black but people don’t care; all they care about was that they were fourteen, not skin color.”

Further into reading Letters, however, after encountering Brent’s confession and apology, this student tells a very different story:

My last comment stems from Brent’s letter on p. 126.  He says, “I felt they were lazy and were slobs. They walked slow, drove slow, lived on welfare, and left their neighborhoods trash-strewn, run-down dumps.” I think that a lot of people think this. After reading this comment I thought about Dubuque’s recent murder case. I obviously [don’t] know all the inside scoop but I personally believe that if those girls that are getting pleas were white the Dubuque people would have different reactions. In most cities when people under 16 commit a crime the County Attorney’s Office is filled with sympathy that we should not impose a harsh punishment on those children. We have two black girls that are 14 that did not stab [the murder victim], but the community cries out that they got off too easy. They will be in a juvenile detention place until 18 and then have a serious adult charge on their record. What ever happened to all that talk about helping kids who commit crimes under 18? . . . I believe that the color of skin is a major factor in this case. Right here in our own town we have issues of race. It often saddens me. Maybe we should look closely at our own community.

Moreover, this student’s change of perception (and judgment) goes deeper than just indicting the community around her. Having identified with Brent from the beginning, she also identifies with his self-examination and self-recrimination:

These were the best two sections in the entire book. I really liked Brent’s remarks. I thought that they were honest. I think that a lot of white people can relate to him. I know that after I read his letter I feel everything that he said. I really realized a lot about myself. . . . I agree with him that the people creating the [unwelcoming] environment for blacks were white churchgoers, like us . . . .

Our parents and grandparents and even we have scared blacks away from living in our community so we don’t understand them and then we see black people stealing and burning stuff [in the media] and we form an opinion based on a small percentage of blacks. . . . We have to stop this.

. . . Just like Brent said, “Although I have not been overtly racist, I have been passively racist—I see this now; please forgive me.” Being passively racist is just as bad if not worse.

Beyond identifying with Brent’s confession, this student grapples with her own role in apologizing to blacks and seeking reconciliation:

I look at my own self and think that I would apologize like Brent did by talking about how I was passive. I don’t know if I truly believe that I can apologize for something that my ancestors did. I don’t know if it is wrong or not to say, but I will apologize for how I have been passive in situations and not spoken up and was a passive racist, but I won’t apologize for something that I had no part of . . . . I will always gladly apologize for something that I did.

The excerpts quoted in this section trace one student’s journey toward self-examination and apologizing for “passive racism.” The key to that transformation appears to be strong identification with Brent’s journey toward understanding and repentance through honest dialogue with David. Here I have highlighted one notable example of transformation from among the student responses I received; others expressed moderate movement in the direction of racial awareness, openness, and commitment to promote reconciliation, while others evidenced little or no change.

Limitations of Findings

While the results of this qualitative study suggest that “eavesdropping” on an interracial dialogue such as Letters Across the Divide can foster openness to other racial perspectives and facilitate reflection on one’s beliefs and attitudes about race, these findings should be taken as illustrative, not representative. The sample size of 12 students is quite small, and findings from this sample cannot be generalized to students at Christian colleges and universities across the United States. Christian universities vary greatly in demographics, geographic context (rural vs. urban, etc.) and theological orientation. For instance, at one end of the religious spectrum, some Christian colleges admit only students who profess personal Christian faith and expect them to adhere to very strict doctrinal and behavioral standards; at the other end of the spectrum, there are Christian colleges—like the university where this study was done—that admit students and faculty of any faith or no faith, requiring only that they understand and engage in some way with the religious identity of the institution.[38] Depending on the type of institution and other factors, an instructor might do well to devote more reading or class discussion to the intersection between race relations and the gospel and might require students to integrate their faith with their response to Letters when writing their papers. That was not so appropriate to the context in which this study was done.

Since the sample here consisted of papers written only by white students, this study does not indicate how black students might respond to, or benefit from, “overhearing” an interracial dialogue such as that recorded in Letters. Instead, the study speaks to the phenomenon of white resistance and the potential for that resistance to be disarmed or transformed by having students read and reflect on Letters. To build upon these findings, future studies of student responses to an interracial dialogue such as Letters would need to incorporate a much larger and more diverse sample size. Sub-samples from white students, black students, and other racial groupings could then be compared and contrasted.


In this essay, I have argued that Letters Across the Divide is a particularly promising tool for promoting racial responsibility and reconciliation in students at Christian colleges and universities, especially among white students who have cultural and psychological reasons to be resistant to such a project. Exposure to a real interracial dialogue in which a white interlocutor affirms common perceptions and attitudes toward race (grounded in the monologic narrative of white America)—and then changes through the dialogue—increases the potential for student identification and transformation (relative to other, more traditional readings that one encounters in the college course on intercultural or interracial communication). In addition, engaging in personal reflection on that dialogue through some form of response papers or journaling provides students with significant opportunities for self-examination and changing of heart and mind, as the examples above have amply illustrated.

Nonetheless, one must recognize the limitations of Letters as a pedagogical tool for promoting racial transformation. First, to some extent, a majority-culture (white male) perspective is in the driver’s seat in Letters. For the most part, Brent puts questions to David; he sets the agenda, albeit a learning agenda in which David’s responses help him to grow and change. To expose students to black or other minority-culture perspectives on their own terms, the instructor would need to assign the kind of monologic narratives found in Our Voices and similar texts.[39] Second, transformation through dialogue cannot be demanded of students. Given that identity, with its core beliefs and values, is grounded in monologic narrative, the most that the instructor can expect of students is that they strive to examine their own narrative ground and open their minds to recognize and consider the narrative ground on which others stand. (That is part of the rationale for having students engage with Letters more through individual writing than classroom discussion.) From such awareness and recognition, dialogic communication may at times emerge. Third, Letters Across the Divide deals only with the black-white racial divide. Principles and practices gleaned from Letters are applicable to other culture or color divisions, and students should be reminded that other significant divides exist and merit the kind of attention that David and Brent give to black-white division. Fourth, the dialogue in Letters leaves unresolved the question of structural racism and its remedy (e.g., affirmative action, reparations, etc.). Instructors looking to make a clear case for white privilege and black disadvantage stemming from slavery and racism will need to draw upon other resources.[40] Finally, as of this writing, the cultural climate in the United States has become so politically polarized (with racial overtones) that some students may be less open to other racial perspectives than they were when the sampled papers were written.

As long as these limitations are taken into account, this study suggests that having students read and reflect upon a robust, scripturally grounded interracial dialogue is an effective way for professors at Christian institutions to raise consciousness and sensitize consciences about racial injustice and the call to reconciliation. The approach is consummately biblical; for while Christian faith is grounded in monologue—one God speaking the universe into existence out of nothing, and one Logos becoming flesh, revealing God and redeeming humanity—the Scriptures unfold this metanarrative in a messy polyphony of human voices and narratives, a dialogized heteroglossia of cultures and languages, traditions, and genres across thousands of years.[41] The Spirit of the gospel both affirms cultural identity and renders it allocentric—opened to the working of “in-group love and out-group love simultaneously.”[42] As seen in the Acts of the Apostles, movement toward allocentric identity is not easy; the monologic call of One God resonating through a people’s history, tradition, and blood exerts a powerful, centripetal pull of devotion. Yet rightly understood, monologue “does not clench truth in its fist, but it houses sentiment that shapes our identity and demands attention from another.”[43] Deep-rooted devotion to one’s communal narrative—especially that of Scripture—is what grounds and grows the kind of person “who cares about the importance of friendship and others and is willing to sacrifice for them.”[44]

A text such as Letters Across the Divide allows students to encounter not only the passionate honesty of friends speaking from their own narrative ground but also the sacrifices of friends listening to one another and learning—even undergoing a change of mind. As Brent and David engage in a dance of agency inspired by Scripture, they model a path toward something greater than monologic identity: participation in the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19). To inaugurate this ministry, “the Lord of the Dance” gave His life and sent His Spirit. An instructor’s most profound dialogic resource, then, is prayer—that as students overhear this dialogue, they will hear Christ’s call and be moved by His Spirit to join the dance.


[1] Katherine G. Hendrix, Ronald L. Jackson, II, and Jennifer R. Warren, “Shifting Academic Landscapes: Exploring Co-Identities, Identity Negotiation, and Critical Progressive Pedagogy,” Communication Education 52, no. 3/4 (2003): 177-190.

[2] Tina M. Harris, “Impacting Student Perceptions of and Attitudes toward Race in the Interracial Communication Course,” Communication Education 52, no. 3/4 (2003): 311.

[3] For example, see Michael Battle, Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim, 1997); Tony Campolo and Michael Battle, The Church Enslaved: A Spirituality of Racial Reconciliation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2005); Curtiss P. DeYoung, Reconciliation: Our Greatest Challenge—Our Only Hope (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1997); Tony Evans, Let’s Get to Know Each Other (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995); John B. Hatch, Race and Reconciliation: Redressing Wounds of Injustice (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2008); Samuel G. Hines and Curtiss P. DeYoung, Beyond Rhetoric: Reconciliation as a Way of Life (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 2000); Dennis L. Okholm, ed., The Gospel in Black and White: Theological Resources for Racial Reconciliation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997); William E. Pannell, The Coming Race Wars? A Cry for Reconciliation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993); John Perkins and Thomas Tarrants, He’s My Brother: Former Racial Foes Offer Strategy for Reconciliation (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 1994); Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice, More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993); Rodney L. Peterson, “A Theology of Forgiveness: Terminology, Rhetoric, and the Dialectic of Interfaith Relationships,” in Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religion, Public Policy, and Conflict Transformation, eds. Raymond G. Helmick and Rodney L. Peterson (Philadelphia, PA: Templeton Press, 2001), 3-25; Robert J. Schreiter, The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality and Strategies (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998); Donald W. Shriver, Jr., An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Desmond M. Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999); Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996); Ronald A. Wells, People Behind the Peace: Community and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999); George A. Yancey, Beyond Black and White: Reflections on Racial Reconciliation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996).

[4] Henry A. Giroux, “Spectacles of Race and Pedagogies of Denial: Anti-Black Racist Pedagogies under the Reign of Neoliberalism,” Communication Education 52, no. 3/4 (2003): 191-211.

[5] Robert Benne, Quality with Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2001).

[6] Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 76.

[7] Aaron D. Gresson, III, America’s Atonement: Racial Pain, Recovery Rhetoric, and the Pedagogy of Healing (New York: Peter Lang, 2004).

[8] For his explications of dialogue, see Martin Buber, “Between Man and Man: The Realms,” in The Human Dialogue: Perspectives on Communication, eds. F. W. Matson and A. Montagu (New York: The Free Press, 1967), 113-117; Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufmann (Edinburgh, Scotland: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970); Martin Buber, The Way of Response (New York: Schocken, 1966).

[9] Ronald C. Arnett, “The Dialogic Necessity: Acknowledging and Engaging Monologue,” Ohio Communication Journal 53 (October 2015): 3. See also Ronald C. Arnett, “Civic Dialogue: Attending to Locality and Recovering Monologue,” Journal of Dialogue Studies 2, no. 2 (2014): 71-92.

[10] Gresson, America’s Atonement, 19.

[11] Aaron D. Gresson III, The Recovery of Race in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 10.

[12] Arnett, “The Dialogic Necessity,” 3.

[13] Kenneth N. Cissna and Rob Anderson, “Communication and the Ground of Dialogue,” in The Reach of Dialogue: Confirmation, Voice, and Community, eds. Rob Anderson, Kenneth N. Cissna, and Ronald C. Arnett (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 1994), 10.

[14] Richard L. Johannesen, “Nel Noddings’s Uses of Martin Buber’s Philosophy of Dialogue,” Southern Communication Journal 65, no. 2/3 (2000): 153-154.

[15] David Anderson and Brent Zuercher, Letters Across the Divide: Two Friends Explore Racism, Friendship, and Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001).

[16] Alberto González and Yei-Wen Chen, eds., Our Voices: Essays in Culture, Ethnicity, and Communication, 6th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Myron W. Lustig and Jolene Koester, eds., Among US: Essays on Identity, Belonging, and Intercultural Competence, 2nd ed. (New York: Pearson, 2005); Judith N. Martin, Thomas K. Nakayama, and Lisa A. Flores, eds., Readings in Intercultural Communication: Experiences and Contexts, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2001).

[17] Gresson, The Recovery of Race in America.

[18] John B. Hatch, “Dialogic Rhetoric in Letters Across the Divide: A Dance of (Good) Faith toward Racial Reconciliation,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 12, no. 4 (2009): 485-532.

[19] Bridgeway Community Church, which Anderson continues to lead as of this writing, has mushroomed and is flourishing, with more than 2,000 people attending its multicultural worship services in Columbia, Maryland, each week; see https://www.bridgeway.cc/services/columbia-campus.

[20] Anderson and Zuercher, Letters Across the Divide, 8.

[21] Ibid., 13-14.

[22] Ibid., 14.

[23] Cissna and Anderson, “Communication and the Ground of Dialogue,” 14.

[24] Emerson and Smith, Divided by Faith.

[25] See John B. Hatch, “Reconciliation: Building a Bridge from Complicity to Coherence in the Rhetoric of Race Relations,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 6, no. 4 (2003): 739-766; Mark L. McPhail, The Rhetoric of Racism Revisited: Reparations or Separation? (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002).

[26] Anderson and Zuercher, Letters Across the Divide, 8.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid., 7-9.

[29] Ibid., 101-102.

[30] Ibid., 127-29.

[31] Ibid., 130-32.

[32] Hatch, “Dialogic Rhetoric in Letters Across the Divide,” 509.

[33] See Arnett, “The Dialogic Necessity,” 4; Marie Baker-Ohler and Annette M. Holba, The Communicative Relationship Between Dialogue and Care (Amherst, NY: Cambria, 2009).

[34] Bruce L. Berg, Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences, 6th ed. (New York: Pearson, 2007).

[35] Anderson and Zuercher, Letters Across the Divide, 31.

[36] Ibid., 25.

[37] Ibid., 33.

[38] My current institution lies between the two: faculty are required to sign a doctrinal statement of classic Christian belief and adhere to Christian lifestyle standards, but students are not.

[39] González and Chen, Our Voices; Lustig and Koester, Among US; Martin, Nakayama, and Flores, eds., Readings in Intercultural Communication.

[40] For example, see Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, “Rethinking Racism: Toward a Structural Interpretation,” American Sociological Review 62, no. 3 (1997): 465-80; Roy L. Brooks, Atonement and Forgiveness: A New Model for Black Reparations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); Jeff Cook, “Why I’m a Racist,” The Huffington Post  (July 15, 2016), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-im-a-racist_us_57893b9ee4b0e7c873500382; Braden Goyette, “15 Charts Prove That We’re Far from Post-Racial,” The Huffington Post (March 3, 2016), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/02/civil-rights-act-anniversary-racism-charts_n_5521104.html; Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Independent School 49, no. 2 (1990): 31ff.

[41] See John B. Hatch, “Hearing God amid Many Voices: Brian McLaren’s (Polyphonically) Novel Approach to the Bible,” Journal of Communication and Religion 38, no. 1 (2015): 23-47. I draw the term “dialogized heteroglossia” from Mikhail M. Bakhtin, “Discourse in the Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1981), 259-422.

[42] Aaron J. Kuecker, The Spirit and the “Other”: Social Identity, Ethnicity and Intergroup Reconciliation in Luke-Acts, Library of New Testament Studies, no. 444, ed. Mark Goodacre (New York: T & T Clark, 2011).

[43] Arnett, “Civic Dialogue,” 88.

[44] Ibid.

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