EDEN, N.C. — A man who lives in the Piedmont has been teaching people how to have tough conversations about race respectfully for years. In fact, his business is called The Dialogue Company.
“I started facilitating racial dialogue courses and when I finished my doctorate,” Dr. David Campt said. “I went to work for the White House in President Bill Clinton’s Initiative on Race. It was a national racial dialogue project.”
Campt grew up in Detroit, but today he lives in Eden. That’s where his family is from. His work takes him all around the country. These days, he teaches classes on Zoom.
“I’ve been much busier since George Floyd. I regret that that happened, but it all creates a new opportunity for us. It’s a new moment we have. It’s a moment for us to wrestle with our racial condition,” he said.
He says this all the yelling back and forth that we’ve seen at protests in recent months is not the way for people to get through to one another on issues of race. He teaches people to relax and ask questions.
“If you want people to listen to you, the most important thing for you to do is listen to them first,” he said. “And ask questions not just about their beliefs, but the experiences under their belief. We all have different experiences, especially about racial issues. And talking about our experience is very important.”
Then he teaches what he calls the ABC principle.
“Agreement before challenging. If you’re trying to change somebody’s point of view, you want to find something right in their point of view before you try to offer them something different,” he said.
In teaching this method of managing conversations through empathy and understanding, he targets a very specific audience.
“The focus of my work is primarily on white people having this conversation with other white people,” he said. “We still have a fair amount of white folks who are like, ‘What is this racism thing? I don’t see it. What are they talking about?’ As long as there’s a fair amount of those people, you’re going to have problems.”
A lot of those problems are within families.
“You see that split in families where people say I can’t talk to my brother, my cousin, whoever. I can’t talk to them until they change their views. Then people are estranged. I find that outrageous and sad,” he said.
“There are extended family members that I have not had these conversations with but I’m a little bit reluctant. I have been reluctant to speak to them,” said Helen Moses, a student in Campt’s class who lives in Raleigh.
“I’ll be completely honest. It scares me to death. It really scares me because it’s my family. But it’s just too important now to not do this work,” she said.
Work she’s learned begins within her.
“We’re all being challenged to dig deep into ourselves to find those instances of unconscious bias, to look for opportunities to connect with people who don’t see that systemic racism exists or is their problem,” Moses said.
Moses says this exercise made her think back to the times she assumed black families in her neighborhood were visitors. It’s embarrassing, she says, but good to acknowledge.
“If there’s any message that I underline … it’s vital that if you want to be an ally it’s important to find within yourself, within your past experience little moments when you had racially problematic thoughts that you’re not proud of and to start speaking of them,” Campt said.
And Moses says she now looks at the space she occupies a little differently.
“I’m seeing my neighborhood as full of opportunities to connect with people and share, maybe even based on that experience, of seeing someone of color in our neighborhood that most people don’t fit that description. Maybe that can start being our commonality that we can build from,” she said.
Campt says his end goal is to remind people that they can influence other people without harming relationships. In fact, he believes these conversations can actually help relationships.
If you’d like to learn more about his work, check out his website.