VOICES: ‘Forcing a conversation is always an uphill battle’

Ron Browning/Contributed
Ron Browning/Contributed

Dayton Daily News Columnist Ray Marcano recently wrote about the need for productive communitywide conversations regarding the important issues of our day. I sent Ray this response to his Aug. 1 opinion piece with the headline, “Let’s all stray outside our bubble sometimes.”


I think this piece is a good step in the right direction. You mentioned correspondents who “challenge my assumptions.“ I think it would be instructive for you to elaborate on the most persuasive of these challenges. Your readers may follow your lead. If the exchange of ideas is not an all or nothing proposition, more people will be willing to contribute.

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As to the “tedious pleasantries without engagement on any serious topics,” this is more often than not a good thing. For instance, the last 11 years I have volunteered in my church’s nursery. Of the hundreds of parents who have peacefully taken in a service, confident that their infant was safe in my care, it would be no small number that would considerably alter their views if we delved too deeply into my political/ideological views.

It is only after a high amount of trust, respect and rapport have developed that it is prudent to discuss controversial matters. Similarly, at my favorite Walmart in Moraine, almost all the employees that I deal with are Black. Whether in the aisles or at checkout, it is generally a very positive experience. These consistent, long-term positive interactions will allow a modicum of differences to be smoothed out down the road. At Walmart, each person sticks to their business, exchange a few pleasantries and all is well.

Your Ms. Dragon’s point about the average American’s sparse news collection habits is all the more reason for patience with “serious” ideas. I generally won’t ask someone else to work to follow my contrarian views until I have shown them a much greater effort, on my part, to understand those ideas disagreeable to me.

What I find helpfully provocative is to point out non-disagreements masquerading as disagreements; one person asserts that the glass is half empty, the other insists that its half full. What could sound like a disagreement is actually complete agreement that just needs to be brought out. In this same vein, Kristina Scott, CEO of Learn to Earn Dayton, writing in the DDN on July 30, referred to Richard Rothstein’s book, “The Color of Law.”

In this book, the author documents a long and consistent pattern of the federal, state and local governments using laws, regulations and policies to eliminate, and afterwords segregate, neighborhoods that were previously racially integrated. This scenario runs throughout the book. The narrow emphasis that Rothstein makes, and Ms. Scott follows, overlooks a provocative reality: Absent government force, many individual Americans and their families were voluntarily opting not to racially segregate themselves regarding housing. Many situations described by Rothstein consisted of the working poor finding affordable housing within close proximity of their jobs.

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Scott goes so far as to paraphrase Rothstein in describing “de facto segregation” as a myth. This rather strong statement essentially means that absent government force, racial housing segregation would not exist. I would not go that far, but the extent to which people will segregate themselves on economic grounds rather than on racial grounds is well documented in “The Color of Law.”

It is worthwhile, though sometimes irritating, to point out to people the implications of what they already believe and profess. This is a fertile field because most people do not spend near enough time delving into the various implications of their own beliefs. Easing these implications into the conversation at just the right time may prompt a healthy productive conversation. Forcing a conversation is always an uphill battle.

Ron Browning is a Kettering resident who runs a family business in Dayton.